my office is walking on eggshells around our overly-friendly coworker

A reader writes:

I am a mid-level manager on a team of about 15. We sit in an open office that includes other teams, but we’re all seated near each other. We have one of those office cultures where it’s normal for people not to say good morning when they come in, and to generally be quiet as people are settling in. We usually eat lunch at our desks, but will also eat in the lunch room, either as a group or one-on-one, depending on the day or our moods.

The most junior person on our team, “Bob,” started about four months ago. I don’t work directly with him, but he seems competent at his job and is a very well-meaning and kind person. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to be able to pick up on our cues to remove ourselves from conversations with him, or extricate ourselves from invitations.

For example, every morning, he will ask each person as they come in how they are, what interesting thing they did the night before, what their plans for tonight are, and what they’re working on today. It’s basically a script. Of course it’s completely well-intentioned but sometimes I just want to scream that I never have and never will do anything interesting! It’s really not the norm here and we’re becoming increasingly annoyed by it, but we try to just give short but friendly answers that will discourage more questions. Because he doesn’t really pick up on the cues, this strategy doesn’t work well. I’ve discussed this with another manager I’m close to and while she also finds this exhausting, she feels we should continue to humor him because he seems to struggle with social interaction.

He will jump on any chance to engage in a conversation, even when I’m clearly talking to my employee about a work issue. If he hears people talking about anything, he will get up and come stand over us and just listen/stare. I feel cold-hearted, but I can’t stand this! I have asked him if he needs anything, to which he generally replies “No” and continues standing. He does this to everyone and it has stopped the team from engaging in out-loud conversation. This is really frustrating and does impede my ability to just have a quick discussion that’s easier to have in person than over slack. Even a fine social conversation with him will spiral into questionable territory, like detailed questions about what people are eating, working on, their personal lives, and what time they’re coming and going. Again, well-intentioned, but uncomfortable. I’m speaking mostly to my own experiences, but I know from conversations with others that they no longer feel comfortable speaking out loud or eating in the lunch room.

These are frustrating to me, but they were something I could deal with, until it veered into after-work territory. We live in a major U.S. city and I have a carefully timed sprint-walk to my tram that takes about 15 minutes. He discovered that I go the the same station as he does and has repeatedly tried to be my “walking buddy.” I brushed off these suggestions, but now he accosts me daily as I’m trying to run out the door, and even a “Sorry, I’m in a rush!” will only cause him to rush out after me. I usually just make a point of putting in my headphones and saying goodbye, but he follows me and tries to engage me. This is honestly a nightmare scenario for me and I would not want to be tram buddies with even my best work friend. I’m living in fear! No matter how many times I rebuff him, he will try again and again.

I’m just already too exhausted from working my normal job every day to also have to worry about someone else’s social fulfillment, but I’m somewhat in the minority! The vibe I get from my coworkers is that they’re really annoyed, but my desire to tell him straight-up that I want to walk alone is too harsh and inconsiderate to his unique social skills. Am I in the wrong here? Of course I feel bad being mean to someone who can’t pick up on our cues, but it’s making me dread coming to the office every day. The tram issue might be easier to deal with, but I have no idea how to stop the in-office conversations.

I also want to add that while I am a woman and he’s a man, there is absolutely not a romantic/crush element to this. He treats everyone the same and has just latched onto me because we walk to the same station.

I believe that he is likely on the autism spectrum, or at least has some other neuro-atypicality (?) that impedes his reading of social cues. If you post this, I’m not sure if you’d want to include that because this is just my suspicion based on his actions, but has not been confirmed by him or anyone else. For me, it is a relevant factor because it makes me/my coworkers feel very guilty rebuffing him.

The good news: If Bob is on the autism spectrum, the kindest thing you can do is to be direct and straightforward about what you do and don’t want him to do, because otherwise he won’t know. And if he’s not on the autism spectrum, the kindest thing is still to be direct and straightforward about what you do and don’t want him to do, because otherwise he won’t know.

Whether Bob is neurodivergent or not, what we know for sure is that he doesn’t have typical social skills and doesn’t pick up on hints and cues. That means the kindest approach is to stop hinting and start being very direct. If he’s well-meaning, and it sounds like he is, he will probably be grateful for it.

Ironically, your coworkers, in their desire to be kind, are being cruel. Rather than being direct with someone who clearly needs directness, they’re allowing him to annoy and exhaust the whole office. That’s not in his best interests, professionally or socially, and he’s no doubt experiencing a lot of isolation as a result — people aren’t even speaking in front of him in the lunch room now.

It’s great that your coworkers want to be sensitive to whatever might be going on with Bob. But please, please point out to them that his “unique social needs” aren’t that he needs to be treated like a high-strung toddler whose feelings must be protected at all costs (and that it’s awfully patronizing to do that), but rather that he just needs people to express themselves more clearly. Ask anyone who’s successfully navigating autism at work or difficulties with social cues in general, and you’re likely to hear the same.

Take what Bob is showing you at face value — he does not understand workplace expectations, and simply needs to have them explained directly and explicitly. What that means in practice:

* When he comes over and listens/stares while you’re having a work-related conversation with someone else, it’s fine to start with “Do you need something?” as you’ve been doing. But when he says no, then you should say, “In that case, can you go back to your desk? It’s distracting to have you standing there listening while I’m talking to Jane.” You’re going to feel a little rude saying this, because you normally wouldn’t need to — but in this case, you do need to, for his sake as well as your own. (And I will bet a significant amount of money that if you do this a few times, he will get the message and stop doing it.)

* When he does his morning four questions about what you did last night, etc., say this in a warm tone: “I’d prefer not to be asked these questions every morning. Just saying ‘hi, how are you?’ would be great.” (Ideally his manager would address this with him more broadly too.)

* If you’re having a social conversation with him and he spirals off into questions that aren’t quite appropriate, you can say, “We’re getting way off-topic, but I wanted to ask you about X” or “Let’s stick to X. I found what you were saying about X really interesting” or “I would rather not talk about that at work” or any other clear boundary that makes sense for the context.

* When he tries to walk with you to the tram, say, “I actually prefer to walk alone, because I use the time to disconnect from work. But I’ll see you tomorrow!”

In all of these instances, the idea is to just spell out for him what his actions tell you he needs spelled out. Not in a mean way, but in a kind, straightforward way. It’s not that different than figuring, “Bob doesn’t understand Spanish, so I need to say this in French so he understands me.”

What your coworkers are doing is more like thinking, “We don’t want to let Bob know that we’ve noticed he doesn’t understand Spanish. We’ll just keeping speaking Spanish and ignoring him as much as we can.” And they feel like they’re being kind by doing that!

You will be doing Bob a huge kindness by just matter-of-factly letting him know what you do and don’t want from him. And I’m hoping you can convince your colleagues of that too.

Updated to add: Wait, are you Bob’s manager? I hadn’t thought you were, but if you are, you can and should address the whole issue more broadly, rather than confining it to just your own interactions.

{ 545 comments… read them below }

  1. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    So you’re giving him cues, and you’re upset that he’s not picking up on them? Meaning that you haven’t actually communicated the issue to him in clear language? You can’t be upset with someone for the crime of not being a mind reader, nor can you hold someone accountable for failing to follow a directive that they were never given.

    Sometimes you have to buck up and tell people what you need from them.

    1. Sarah*

      Exactly my thought. The whole time I was reading the letter I just kept thinking, “But have you TOLD him what you need?”

    2. Crivens!*

      Let’s remember how much pressure women get to “let people down easy” and be kind even at the expense of our own wants and needs. “Just buck up” is accurate here, but acting like it is and should be easy for everyone is ignoring huge societal issues.

      1. Rainy*

        Yup. And also, how many women have taken the advice to just buck up and communicate clearly and had the situation turn threatening or actually violent?

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          In the workplace for a work-related conversation, in an industry that is not male-dominated?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That’s certainly an outlier situation though. I think the point is not “Bob is likely to turn violent and the OP should tailor her response accordingly” but rather “women have often learned from experience to fear the reactions from men when they assert reasonable boundaries, and it can be hard to turn off that socialization even in contexts where they’re generally relatively safe.”

              1. Rainy*

                Yes, that was definitely what I meant–it’s hard not to let that concern spill over into the conversation.

              2. Crivens!*

                Agreed, I also don’t think Bob is likely to turn violent or threatening, just saying that yes, this is a thing that can and does happen in the workplace, too. Our society doesn’t stop being sexist once we’re in the workplace, after all!

              3. Jules the 3rd*

                And also, ‘OP is being told by the rest of the office not to give direct feedback.’

        2. nnn*

          Apart from threats or violence, you can also be socially/administratively punished/thought poorly of for communicating directly.

          So many times when I was in low-level jobs, customers or co-workers would complain about me for being direct when I was saying something they didn’t want to hear – even when I was doing exactly what I was instructed to by my manager. Many of these people would have told you on a theoretical level that people should be direct, and then complained that I was pushy or abrasive when I was direct with them.

          When I tell this to people who don’t believe me, they say “Something about your tone or delivery must have come across as rude.” But the fact of the matter is, I was being as polite as I know how. The only way to come across as even more polite was to be indirect.

          1. Rainy*

            Retail is the worst for this in my experience. “Why are you saying no–this is a yes store!”

            [insert “sir, this is a Wendy’s” meme]

          2. Jen S. 2.0*

            I feel you. In the situation you’re describing, the person thinks that *not giving them what they want* is the rude action, not your polite phrasing.

            1. Cathie from Canada*

              I subscribe to a subreddit called “Choosing Beggars” and its filled with funny stories about people who think they are entitled to something for nothing.
              I think I enjoy reading these stories because it helps me mentally practice how to stand up for myself and not to give in to people just because they think I should — something I have always had difficulty with.

              1. many bells down*

                I don’t even like reddit but I started reading that sub a few weeks ago and I cannot stop. I don’t know what it is but it’s endlessly fascinating.

            2. De-Archivist*

              Yes. This x1000.

              In past retail life, the handful of customer complaints I received over the years always amounted to ‘I didn’t get what I wanted, wah!’

              The only way I think I dodged serious job repercussions once or twice in retail is that I am extremely calm under pressure, very professional but polite, and totally willing to stand silently while a customer tires themself out yelling at me.

          3. Grapey*

            OP is a manager and not asking how to avoid a gabby customer though.

            Also, if someone told me their rebuke was met with a “you were abrasive” complaint, I’d say ‘good, sounds like you got your message across.’

            It’s a fact that a woman trying to assert herself is seen as rude but that doesn’t stop me from celebrating when my intended goal of ‘stop annoying behavior’ is met. I’m ok with coming off as abrasive if it means I don’t get cornered by a chatterbox.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think Stellaaaa and others recognize the effects of gender in the workplace. A fair number of women are agreeing with Alison and encouraging OP to be direct because they, too, have had to buck up and have these kinds of conversations in ge workplace. No ones saying it’s easy—they’re saying it’s necessary. (And honestly, this sort of thing only gets easier with practice if you’re not used to communicating this way.)

        It’s helpful for OP to know that other women have had to take this approach and have not suffered for it. In general, I think practicing kind but direct communication is helpful for folks of all gender identities.

        1. Crivens!*

          For sure, I agree that it’s necessary, just trying to remind people that implying that that bluntness is easy is incorrect.

            1. Crivens!*

              I think years of letters here have made it pretty clear that directness isn’t easy, either.

            2. Totally Minnie*

              Directness is not easy for people who have spent their lives being taught to be indirect. It’s a skill like any other, and as such, it requires practice. People who haven’t had as much practice or encouragement in being direct (like a lot of women, for example) are going to find it a lot more difficult and scary than people who have been encouraged to be direct for most of their lives (like a lot of men, for example).

              1. Snark*

                Sorry, to clarify, I meant more that bluntness can so easily morph into rudeness or abruptness, whereas clarity just conveys what you need, and I just whiffed that in an attempt to be clever.

              2. AnonEMoose*

                I’d go a little further – I not only have not received encouragement to be direct, I’ve been actively discouraged from doing so. I suspect it’s the same for many women in the workplace.

                1. Environmental Compliance*

                  I have both been simultaneously encouraged to be more direct, and told to be less direct, because I need to be firm yet also not be a bitch. Happened during a contractor training, during which one very vocal gentleman decided I was “that permits bitch” and a couple others (thankfully) spoke up and disagreed, stating I was simply being politely firm (and also that they thought he was an idiot, so there’s that I guess).

                  You can’t win with some people. My give-a-damn busted some time ago. I don’t care who you are, I’ll be polite, easy-going, and professional, but rules are rules. Just because you yell louder doesn’t mean you get a free pass to do what you please. As a side note with that – I’ve had to have that potentially awkward conversation with people to give me my personal space. It’s less awkward the more you do it, and generally people are happy to do so when you’re nonchalant yet direct about it. Heck, I really don’t think most of them even realized they were doing it, to be honest. But it did take some time and frustrating awkwardness on my part to get to being comfortable with being politely direct with those sorts of things. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced!

              3. Aurion*

                I’ll also add that people who are used to being indirect can perceive directness as rudeness, no matter how warm the tone or how kind the delivery. My mother perceives so many offenses that I don’t, and it has led to a lot of pointless arguments between us.

                Socializing is hard!

                1. neverjaunty*

                  Yes. I mean, even AAM posted advice at one point where telling a massive repeat offender “please don’t ever do that again” in a firm tone felt incredibly rude!

                2. sb51*

                  Yeah. In a very indirect group (when everyone is familiar with the style), directness is an intentional, explicit insult. Even direct *praise* can be used to insult in an indirect setting—only children get simple praise and thus giving it to an adult is calling them childish.

                  (I’m not defending it, but it is a thing. And to someone raised with it as their native style, they’re translating it without thinking; “but I did say that!” when no, you said the indirect hint version but your brain remembers being direct because you would know what you meant.)

              4. smoke tree*

                I’m not the most assertive person in the world, but I actually think the situation described in this letter is a good, low-stakes opportunity to practice being direct. Telling someone that you’re in the middle of a private conversation or need to concentrate on work is pretty easy to do politely, and it doesn’t sound like Bob is a boundary-pusher, just that he’s not picking up on their cues, so they likely won’t need to take a really hard line with him.

                I think the LW’s office is just used to a norm where everyone is more or less on the same wavelength and haven’t needed to spell any of this out so far, so they’re not sure how to respond to someone who doesn’t have the same perspective.

        2. Busy*

          Right. People are raised with their own versions of a “social contract”. That contract varies though household to household, region to region, and society to society at large. If a person wasn’t raised with an idea of how to navigate and set boundaries with people who grew up with different social contracts, they need to relearn as adults. This is more the norm than not as it is. People are taught all sorts of non-verbal social cues within their little culture cells, and a lot of those don’t translate into others. Women in particular are socialized in SO MANY little nuanced ways to not be direct. People tell me I am direct all the time. I never hear them say that to a man – but see in my little culture cell, direct was normal. Imagine my shock entering the work world haha. My son is nuerodivergent. He is of the kind where if there wasn’t so much awareness of it, it would have been overlooked. But, this is exactly like something he would do. The thing is, he is a human being and it is best to just look at him like he has a different idea of a social contract and you need to set that boundary if you do not prefer it. In his group therapy with similar kids, they do this to each other all night. Being direct and setting boundaries.

          Anyway, since there is no course on how to break through our ideas of social cues or even that we need to, we cannot admonish people for asking what to do in awkward situations. 95% of Alison’s responses deal with being direct. As a matter of fact, I bet 100% of readers here never considered that as the go-to solution before reading this blog. And honestly, I just kinda glaze over these articles myself now. When I first started reading it, I read them carefully. But now I know.

      3. Observer*

        Also, note that the OP explicitly states that she is pretty much being told by others that telling Bob to back off and that she does not want to walk with him is “too harsh”.

        The OP says “The vibe I get from my coworkers is that they’re really annoyed, but my desire to tell him straight-up that I want to walk alone is too harsh and inconsiderate to his unique social skills.”

        1. cheese please*

          she could always say “I appreciate you trying to be friendly and that you want to have a good working relationship, but I really like commuting alone to listen to my music or disconnect from the day” etc

          1. Observer*

            I agree. I’m just making the point that the OP is not just being a wimp to whom directness is an inconceivable concept. Rather she’s in a situation where she is actually under some pressure to NOT be direct. It’s just not fair, under those kinds of circumstances to come at her with the equivalent of “Did you ever learn how to use your words?”

        2. AnonEMoose*

          One thing that occurs to me is that the OP’s commute, while work-related, or maybe work-adjacent is a better word, is actually her time. So her coworkers basically have zero standing to comment on how she addresses that situation with Bob.

          I think, too, that this is what Captain Awkward would call a “return awkward to sender” situation. By telling Bob, directly but in a kind tone, “I like to walk by myself; I use the time to unwind from work and relax with my music,” she’s not “making it awkward.” Bob is already (probably unintentionally) making it awkward. OP is just declining to be the owner of the awkward.

          Bob may be upset. Bob may be mortified that he didn’t realize what the OP was really trying to say when she made the “in a rush” comments before. But that’s not the OP’s fault, and it was probably an honest mistake on Bob’s part. And if Bob expresses being upset, OP can say something like “No worries, Bob, I know you had/have good intentions. I just really enjoy my unwinding time. I’ll see you tomorrow/Monday/whatever is appropriate.”

        3. Jen S. 2.0*

          That ties back to being direct, though. She talked about a “vibe.” This office seems to be full of nonverbal and indirect communication, with a lot of looks and shrugs and eyebrow raises and quick exits and speed walks and headphones and furrowed brows and sidelong glances and cringes and winces and smiles and pursed lips and and sighs… all of which are a language all their own, which Bob, bless his heart, does not comprehend (and that’s no one’s fault).

          No one is coming right out and saying anything, and clearly these people need to come out and say things, at least to Bob. They’re all hoping he’ll magically start to understand the nonverbal language, but he won’t.

          1. Sarah*

            Yes! There is this odd, unspoken language that I’ve noticed in our office – we answer an unasked question in response to a very specific question.

            So if the question is, “When are the office snacks going to be restocked?” you could get a range of answers from “I’ve got snacks in my drawer if you’re hungry,” to “I’ve been a little busy lately,” that depend not on the actual question but on the people hearing the question having different interpretations of why the question was asked (“I’m hungry but don’t want to admit it and seem like I’m pressuring you,” or “I think you’re a slacker and I want to subtly point out that you’re falling down on the job,” for instance).

            But if all you mean is “When are the office snacks going to be restocked?” you’re not getting the information needed despite asking directly.

            It seems like the OP wants to state things directly (yes, please!) because she noticed hinting doesn’t work, which would be a really good thing to do so that Bob understands that people are trying to communicate “Please stop” to him. The rest of the office wants to continue communicating in the way they feel is more subtle and less offensive, which won’t do anything to change the behaviour that is bothering everybody.

          2. Batman*

            I agree that in this case, directness is necessary because Bob hasn’t picked up on this on his own, but I just want to say that nonverbal communication is a form of communication that we use all the time and it’s not weird that people are communicating through gestures or eyebrow raises.

            1. zora*

              That is exactly what Jen S. 2.0 said in her comment. She said, it’s a nonverbal language, and the office seems to communicate exclusively in their nonverbal language, which Bob doesn’t understand.

              She never said or implied that that was a bad thing or weird.

        4. JSPA*

          It’s all in the delivery:

          “Bob, it’s so nice that you’re willing to walk with me, but I generally prefer to leave alone, so I can decompress from work.”

          “Bob, if you need to talk to one of us, send a PM so we know to come find you when we’re done here.”

          Basically, praise the good intention, prompt for and reward useful behavior, redirect unwelcome behavior.

      4. Maya Elena*

        It’s not about laying more blame on a person’s personal timidity or society at large for their lack of directness; the solution is still to buck up (just like it isn’t relevant if Bob is actually diagnosed autistic or not).

        1. Observer*

          Well, that’s not really true. “Buck up” is a really judgemental way to put it. And that’s just not fair or true the the reality.

    3. OP*

      I’m not upset he’s not picking up on them, but cues are my first response in the social framework I know. The reason I wrote into Alison was I feel I need to be more direct (even though I feel uncomfortable about it, which is perhaps my own thing), but coworkers are discouraging me. I don’t expect him to read my mind, I’m just looking for advice on the kindest/best way to express it.

      1. Lance*

        Those same coworkers, however, are very clearly frustrated by his behavior themselves, given how they’re avoiding conversations… and it’s not changing. It’s not going to change. If you’re comfortable with it at all, taking the direct approach Alison suggests (and seeing if you can get others in on it — and maybe even in on letting him into some conversations that could be relevant/interesting, if they’re comfortable with that? believe me when I say, it hurts to be a social outcast) would likely make the office way less uncomfortable, and those same coworkers would definitely notice.

        1. Legal Beagle*

          OP, I sympathize! I struggle with directness and this would be a nightmare for me. But I like Lance’s framing – if you follow your coworkers’ lead, nothing will change. Looking down the road, people will eventually get so fed up with him that it will likely result in nasty behavior. (They’re already whispering about him behind his back, and avoiding and excluding him.) You can’t just politely and indefinitely ignore behavior this intrusive when it bothers the whole office; that is a disservice to everyone, Bob included. Instead, give him a chance to adjust his behavior to better fit the office norms, and hopefully he can start to build positive relationships with his coworkers.

      2. Rainy*

        I’m an extrovert, OP, and I have so much sympathy for you–sometimes I just want to come in, do my work, talk about work stuff, leave work, decompress, and arrive home ready to be not my work-self!

        I think in this case the best and kindest way to express this is clearly and immediately. Especially if you are Bob’s manager? unclear from your original letter–you are in a place to quell this behavior, but even if not, you are absolutely entitled to draw your own boundaries around work interactions with Bob. I’d start with the following you to the tram, because I see that as something that could easily develop into a serious problem. “Bob, I need my walk to the tram to be my place to decompress from work. If someone from work is talking to me, I am not decompressing. I appreciate the offer, but I prefer to walk to and from the station by myself. Thank you!”

      3. fposte*

        Hey, sometimes you need a little cheering on to break out of a custom. That’s what we’re here for :-).

        I’m a Guess culture person myself so I get it, but I also note you say “cues are my first response.” First is okay–what will leave you high and dry in this situation and in managing generally is if they’re your *only* response. The simple explicit statement about your wishes is a crucial communications skill in the workplace. I also think that kindness is a bit of a honey trap here, in that often there’s an irony: the more you pad a statement, the more horrible it seems like the core idea must be. It’s often kinder to be brief and matter-of-fact and let your friendly tone handle the kindness. “Actually, Bob, I like to walk on my own to the train. See you tomorrow!”

        1. Canadian Public Servant*

          Love how you have put this, fposte:

          I also think that kindness is a bit of a honey trap here, in that often there’s an irony: the more you pad a statement, the more horrible it seems like the core idea must be. It’s often kinder to be brief and matter-of-fact and let your friendly tone handle the kindness.

          1. smoke tree*

            I liked that line too, and I think it comes back to the old distinction between kindness and niceness. It’s easy to make yourself believe that you’re being kind to someone by not speaking up about things they do that bother you, but it would be a greater kindness to give them the opportunity to fix them. In this case, it appears that the whole office has really doubled down on the approach and is choosing to shun Bob under the guise of kindness.

        2. Close Bracket*

          lol, when not referring to an actual trap with honey, a “honey trap” is when a usually female operative seduces someone to get something from them! I don’t think trapping is even the analogy you going for here, and seduction definitely wasn’t!

      4. ChimericalOne*

        As a person who’s on the autistic spectrum myself, I hope you’re able to put Alison’s advice to good use! I can’t guarantee he’ll take your feedback completely in stride (he may — some of us have learned to be Zen about these kinds of things — or he may initially feel hurt/rejected or embarrassed to hear he’s been behaving inappropriately), but even if he doesn’t, you’ll be doing him a kindness. And even if he is initially embarrassed, he’ll be glad to know a better way and maybe even make a few friends, once he course-corrects.

        I’m eternally grateful to my sister for what I long characterized as “nagging” that eventually helped me to be so aware of social conventions & body language, etc., that I now pass for a neurotypical 90%+ of the time. (Some folks have a hard time even believing that I’m on the spectrum — if they didn’t know me as a young adult!)

        1. No Name Left*

          I’m probably not 100% neurotypical (no diagnosis, at this stage it won’t change anything anyway, I’m 41 and happy the way things are), and I am also very grateful to my brother as he also used to scold me when he saw me doing something socially stupid when I was younger. From my perspective I think that if you’re on the spectrum and were an only-child, the latter will make it more difficult for you, siblings can be such great and blunt coaches!

          On the other hand at my previous job I was in a the same situation as the OP, but I decided to mentor my “Bob” when I heard how two coworkers were planning to frame him for a mistake they made. Bob and I were both coming at the office earlier and we had quite some 1-to-1 conversations about tactics in several social situations he encountered. I mentored him as far as I could but the place was dysfunctional on many levels and I quit, although I still have an excellent relationship with most of my former coworkers (some being more aware of the Bob situation than others). One of the aware told me “Bob has evolved so much thanks to you!”. I’ve got to say I felt so proud of him.

            1. Myrna Minkoff*

              Yeah I wanted to know that too! No Name Left, it’s awesome you stood up for your own Bob and I want to hear the rest of the story.:)

      5. neverjaunty*

        Some directness here: your co-workers are being cowardly and selfish. They are shifting their own discomfort about being direct onto Bob, and pretending the issue is that it would be “unkind” to be direct with him, when it’s really that they are uncomfortable with the idea of being straighforward with him.

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Giving social cues =/= expecting mind reading.

      I agree that Bob evidently doesn’t understand the social cues being given, but that doesn’t mean that they’re objectively incomprehensible or that people are unreasonable for expecting a certain level of cue-reading in a normal interaction. Alison’s comparison to speaking different languages is apt. If I told you something in French, and you don’t speak French, that doesn’t mean I expected you to read my mind, or that speaking French is an inherently unreasonable action.

      1. fposte*

        Oh, I totally agree with this and I’m glad you made that point. Cues are fine; they’ve worked well for a lot of people, including the OP’s workspace. I also like the language metaphor because I think how often it’s tempting to just speak the language louder to make it understandable, even though that doesn’t work; I suspect that’s the stage OP and her co-workers are at.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          That’s an AMAZING comparison – “speaking [foreign language] louder in hopes of being understood” as an analogy for doubling down on the social cues and becoming more and more resentful and aggravated. I think that framing is really helpful for approaching issues like this and I’m going to try and keep it in mind!

        2. LittleMouseJesus*

          Part of the reason I love the metaphor is because it also makes sense to be like:
          “Does this person understand the language just fine whenever a man is speaking it, or whenever he wants to hear the answer he’s getting? Does he only have problems understanding it when women are telling him no?”
          This guy obvs actually does not speak the language, but most women I know have had experiences with men who are only “socially awkward” when it comes to hearing women say “no” indirectly.

          1. Kettles*

            Proven via study now. Scientists found that certain types of men understand soft cues perfectly – unless it’s a woman saying no to a sexual encounter. So Bob saying he’s getting up early and needs to head home? No problem. Jane saying the same thing? An inexplicable mystery.

            1. LittleMouseJesus*

              Did you see a study that was specific to sexual encounters? I vaguely remember one, but I thought I remembered it being a gendered-but-not-just-sexual phenomenon where any soft-no from a woman was more likely to be ignored by a subset of men.

        3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          It also works well for me because if you say something in French and the other person doesn’t seem to understand, it’s not necessarily immediately apparent why they didn’t understand or what you need to change.

          Maybe they don’t speak French? Or maybe they didn’t hear you and you need to enunciate more clearly? Or maybe they didn’t understand a specific word or idiom that you used and if you rephrase it’ll be clear?

          At this point, OP seems pretty clear that Bob is just clueless when it comes to the cues he’s being given, based on a buildup of evidence over time, but I don’t blame anyone for not immediately jumping to “let me lay out social norms in precise detail” the first time things are a bit off in a social interaction.

      2. I Took A Mint*

        This so much, oh my goodness. I’m pretty shocked at how everyone including Alison is coming down so hard on the coworkers for not being direct. This is such a cultural thing and the US is on the most-direct side of the spectrum, meaning that the onus is on communicators to be explicit, and receivers aren’t expected to infer as much.

        Learning about this difference and ask vs. guess culture would be beneficial for people who think that the coworkers are being malicious or callous. If you are in France and you speak to someone in French, it’s pretty reasonable to expect that they would understand you. Some people are neurodivergent and can’t pick up social cues easily, but that doesn’t mean that using them to communicate is inherently wrong or unkind. On the contrary, I would argue that ask/direct cultures don’t learn to /listen/ nearly as well as guess/indirect cultures, and this is a valuable skill when communicating with anybody.

    5. Engineer Girl*

      In trying to avoid a confrontation the coworkers are going to create a confrontation. At some point they will get so annoyed that they will explode all over Bob. Bob will then be hurt and upset that no one told him there was a problem. All because someone wasn’t adult enough to be honest and have the conversation.
      Confronting problems early when they are small saves both sides and saves the relationship. Major blow ups happen because one side isn’t being honest with the other.

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        Exactly. This is a corollary to “those who hate confrontation tend to be very bad at it, so it gets worse or harder to have a good or useful confrontation as a result”

        Practice, practice, practice. :-)

      2. Humble Schoolmarm*

        I agree! My students (7th graders) are about 50-50 when it comes to getting (and remembering) cues. Some are great and will often take it upon themselves to directify my cues (“Miss wants us to be quiet!” in an elaborate stage whisper) some aren’t there yet. Earlier in my career, I would teach them the cue early in the year and then get frustrated when they didn’t respond as I wanted, leading to lectures (maybe mini rants) about respecting class rules. Now I’ll say something like “Okay, the lights are off, I’m standing by the light switch and speaking louder than normal. What does that tell you to do?” and they’ll settle down without pushback. I may still be a little miffed that I have to give the same speech once a week and it sounds condescending to my adult ears, but it’s way easier than going 100% non-verbal and getting upset because they’re not getting it.

    6. Annie*

      It’s not women’s job to teach men how to behave and not make other people uncomfortable. To be clear, she’s not being rude by not policing his behavior, he’s being rude for forcing people into uncomfortable situations where they are forced to police his behavior. Bob needs to learn basic social and professional decorum, not mind reading. OP can and should be direct with him to improve her situation, but let’s be clear that this situation was created by Bob and Bob alone.

      1. Observer*

        Come on. This is not about “women teaching men”, this is about someone making her needs clear to someone who clearly doesn’t get it.

        1. Annie*

          The fact that he “doesn’t get it” is not her fault though. That’s my point. This isn’t an issue of OP’s miscommunication. This is about some weird dude making people uncomfortable. Blaming it on OP or acting like she’s expecting him to “read her mind” is absurd. OP isn’t in the wrong for expecting someone to have basic social awareness without her having to break it down for him. This is something that women deal with all the time, always having to teach men how to behave, and getting blamed when we don’t communicate “directly enough” for clueless dudes who apparently need to have the message pounded over their head before they get it.

          1. Myrna Minkoff*

            “Some weird dude making people uncomfortable” is pretty mean. No, it’s not her job, but she’s taking responsibility in telling him and that is kind of her.

          2. Observer*

            Blaming her for expecting him to read her mind is absurd, I agree. However, the reality IS that some people, male and female alike, do not speak the language of social cues. It is common decency to speak clearly in words to those people. That’s not taking on emotional labor, “teaching men to behave” or anything like that. It’s simply basic communications 101.

            The example of speaking Spanish to someone who doesn’t speak Spanish is apt. More apt, perhaps, is someone who has a hearing issue – would you object to the idea of using sign language or putting everything in writing for such a person?

            Now, if the OP speaks clearly, and Bob STILL misbehaves, that’s another story altogether.

            1. Annie*

              That is definitely taking on emotional labor. To be clear, I do think OP should take on the labor and be direct with him for her OWN sake. But my response was to the comment essentially blaming OP, saying she can’t expect him to “read her mind” and saying that she can’t fault him for his behavior since she hasn’t been explicit with him. Expecting people to have a basic sense of social norms is actually quite reasonable, and if they don’t then that’s on THEM.

              1. Engineer Girl*

                The word “labor” is usually reserved for a significant effort. A single sentence of “I’d rather walk alone Bob” is hardly significant.

                The issue is not mind reading. It’s holding someone accountable to an unspoken request. That’s the real problem. The OP is getting annoyed at someone when she hasn’t let them know it is bothering her. The OP could choose not to get annoyed and never have to speak up. Or she can can get annoyed at which point the correct thing to do is speak up.

                So yes, it is on her because she’s getting annoyed and staying silent.

          3. AnonAtTheMoment*

            OP very explicitly said that this wasn’t a sexual / gendered thing, and that he does this to men, too. “Men not listening to women saying no” is a huge issue, but it’s not the core of every interaction involving a man.

            “Making women responsible for men’s unwillingness to listen” is a really counterproductive response to “men not listening,” but it had zilch to do with “someone who happens to have a Y chromosome doesn’t process social cues from anyone, and I who happen to have two X-chromosomes would like to know if it’s rude to be more direct.”

            Women on the spectrum (or raised by parents on the spectrum) do exactly this same sort of crap. To both men and women. (Yeah, ask me how I know.)

      2. Seespotbitejane*

        I had a coworker who was a lot like Bob except creepier. He would use his awkwardness as a shield to harass women in the office. I eventually left that job because it was an incredibly toxic workplace (as evidenced by the fact that they didn’t fire Bob despite his getting into constant arguments with clients and his multiple talks with HR about not low-key stalking female employees).

        But the thing about him was, in the beginning we didn’t know he was creepy and everyone wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and be nice and make him feel included and ignore how he constantly pushed boundaries.

        Finally being direct with him and telling him to knock that shit off and having him ignore that direct message was how we figured out that he actually wasn’t a well intentioned socially awkward guy, but a potentially actually dangerous manipulative creep.

        If you say Bob is definitely a nice well-meaning dude I’ll believe you, but chasing after a coworker to try and ride the same train every day when she’s actively trying to avoid you is a pretty big social cue to innocently miss or get accidentally wrong.

        1. Annie*

          For real, what’s up with this attitude that whenever a dude makes people uncomfortable we have to give him the benefit of the doubt and find every excuse in the book to justify his behavior? Why can’t we just call it as it is- a grown man making people uncomfortable. Even if he doesn’t intend to do it, it doesn’t change the result, and it’s no one’s responsibility but his own to fix his behavior.

          1. Observer*

            No one is asking anyone to “make every excuse in the book.” They are simply saying “Say what you want to have happen.” Outside of a couple of outliers, everyone has been saying that once you do that, if he still continues to act this way, that’s a whole different issue. No excuse making.

            1. Annie*

              You’re missing the context of the original post blaming OP for not correcting this guy’s behavior, as if it’s her job to teach him how to behave, and the multiple follow up comments suggesting he might be autistic.

              1. JSPA*

                These…are simply not the facts as OP stated them. EVERYONE is being asked to “humor him.” In the sense of answering his morning litany of questions, and NOT correcting his behavior. OP says its not gendered. OP says she’s spontaneously looking for a more effective way to make her needs known, for her own convenience and comfort. How you’re turning this into the diametric opposite, I just…don’t get.

                There are a lot of creeps. There are a lot of people who can’t process cues (anymore than someone who’s R-G colorblind can process red from green). The overlap between those groups isn’t disproportionately large. Bob could be both unable to process cues and also a boundary-crossing A-hole, but we have zero reason to assume A + B, when A alone is adequate to explain the situation.

      3. Eukomos*

        If he is on the autism spectrum then that’s not an entirely appropriate frame. Would you say that an employee in a wheelchair who needs an elevator to get into the office is “forcing” the office to make an elevator available?

        1. Annie*

          First of all, you don’t know he’s on the autism spectrum, and it’s not OP’s job or anyone else’s to make predictions about this guy’s mental health. Second, how do you know this dude is clueless and not just a complete creep? There are plenty of guys who behave weirdly and make everyone around them uncomfortable, are we supposed to assume they’re all mentally ill before we form an opinion?

          And to be clear, even if he IS on the autism spectrum, autism doesn’t make it OK for you to make people uncomfortable, it doesn’t require that those people hold your hand and teach you how to be normal and not creepy, and it doesn’t require that anyone tolerate your weird behavior. It’s not even remotely the same as the wheelchair example. An elevator is a reasonable accommodation for a disability. Expecting people to police a grown man’s behavior because he’s so socially clueless is not a reasonable accommodation.

          1. JSPA*

            Calling autism a “mental health issue” is incorrect. Also pretty offensive (both to people on the spectrum, and to people with mental health issues, both of whom have enough to deal with in daily life, without having their identities and challenges conflated). Could you maybe step back and self-educate a bit, and then come back?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              A quick google search just showed me an array of mainstream organizations classifying it that way, so I’m going to ask that you leave this here. You’re welcome to kindly correct someone if you think it’s necessary but not to scold them.

              1. LurkyMcLurkface*

                Sadly there is a lot of misunderstanding about autism and unfortunately a lot of organisations that should know better, don’t. Autism isn’t a mental health condition, it’s a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition; that can affect not only people’s social communication and imagination, range of interests, how the person experiences the sensory input and executive functioning. Many autistic people do also have mental health conditions, learning disabilities, other neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD and/or physical disabilities. Autism affects different people in different ways. If you want to find out more and want to hear it from mainstream organisations, can I suggest starting with the UK’s National Autistic Society?
                I don’t mean this as snark or criticism, as an autistic person who also has mental health problems, it’s very hard to see erroneous information about what is a huge part of my life being allowed but the rebuttal criticised.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  That’s great info to have, but my point was that I don’t want people harshly scolding other commenters for something that is clearly a common misunderstanding. It’s the harsh scolding that’s at issue. Again, please leave this here as it’s taken us off-topic.

          2. LurkyMcLurkface*

            I agree it should not be assumed that this person is autistic (although it’s not a mental health condition, it’s a lifelong neurdevelopmental disorder). The OP also has the right to her solo walk after work.

            However your second paragraph concerns me. Autism isn’t just ‘social cluelessness’ and your use of the the words ‘weird’, ‘creepy’ to describe this person who may not be anything of the sort is typical of the rather mean reaction that autistic people often get when inadvertantly making a social faux pas because we can misread and misunderstand social rules.

            If Bob were to disclose a diagnosis of autism, supporting him to stop making social faux pas by telling him directly, bluntly but kindly when he’s getting it wrong is as much a reasonable adjustment for an autistic person as providing an elavator for a wheelchair user. It’s not about babying someone, it’s about making the workplace accessible to someone who doesn’t easily pick up social rules but who is competent at his job according to the OP.

            That doesn’t mean anyone has to put up with harassment, but if it is not harassment, rather a well meaning, but wrong, interpretation of office social rules, it is reasonable to give him support to change his behaviour and make a success of his job. It would be best to assign him one mentor who understands (or is prepared to learn) and who could help him with this and build trust with him, rather than leaving it to all staff to do it as inevitably there’ll be people who see it is being required to tolerate the ‘creepy, weird behaviour’ of someone who is not ‘normal’ rather than a reasonable adjustment.

            An autism diagnosis isn’t carte blanche to be a dickhead so if even he does have a diagnosis, if he is actually harassing someone, he should still face disciplinary proceedings as appropriate, but with support to ensure he understands.

    7. Jen S. 2.0*

      I had a college roommate where I got SOOOO frustrated that she wasn’t understanding the hints I would have understood. When I started saying what would have been way too blunt for me, she finally got that I was serious. Like, on a scale of 1-10, I would have gotten it at a 3, and a 5 would have hurt my feelings, but she just didn’t hear me until I went to a 6 or 7.

      So, yeah, sometimes you have to stop dropping hints and actually say the thing out loud, in plain language. It’s not rude to be direct; it’s only rude to be rude.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        I have that with my roommate right now – we have a huge ask vs guess mismatch. In my case I tend to feel it most as my own resentment/aggravation at things she says because I always feel they’re “at” me (and my boyfriend repeatedly points out that that’s not necessarily the case and I am just interpreting it that way). I think it’s really useful in situations like this when you have to live or work with someone, to remind yourself to be constantly “translating” from their mode/register to yours. I like your 10 point scale analogy!

        1. TL -*

          My roommate and I are the opposite – he’s very laid back Kiwi and I am high strung American. It’s not the thing to have a strong preference in NZ, so I’ll ask, he’ll say whatever, and then sometime afterwards he’ll casually mention, “aw, could have done with some garlic/I didn’t really like it.” (this is a thing that happens here; he’s being polite, not passive aggressive.)
          A week or so ago, I actually yelled at him half-jokingly that I was American and I was not going to be offended if he had a preference.

          1. Don P.*

            I don’t see how it’s polite to tell you, *when its too late*, what he would have liked, with the only result that you, the chooser, feel bad. Are you supposed to ask more times, maybe?

      2. Jen S. 2.0*

        Yep, that was us! She would ask for the most outrageous things*, and I would feel put on the spot and awkwardly give a soft no, and she would keep asking and pushing until I got mad and blew up.

        When I realized that she wasn’t offended even when I blew up, I started being much firmer in my initial no! Like, I barely knew that you COULD do that!

        *like the time she threw a party after college, and when people politely asked if they could bring anything, she told each of them to bring, oh, 4 handles of booze. Girl. No.

    8. Beth*

      This! I work for bosses like this. It is very frustrating and dehumanizing to be treated stupid when you are only given half the information.

    9. Someone Else*

      This is a little harsh. She said she wants to tell him directly and her coworkers keep telling her not to. That’s part of the question.

  2. MommaCat*

    OP, Please be kindly direct, as Alison says! As someone with multiple relatives on the spectrum, it really is the best way to deal with unwanted behavior. And, as someone not on the spectrum but who’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer, that would be the best way to get me to stop an unwanted behavior, too. ;-)

    1. MayorDana*

      Yes! My son is on the spectrum and I have to be super direct when dealing with these types of behaviours. To an outsider it might look harsh or mean, but unless I’m using my serious voice he’s not going to pick up on what I’m telling him.
      It’s really ok, nuerodivergent or not, to be extremely direct and spell out what you need him to do differently.

    2. Blue*

      I have a niece on the spectrum and a mother who is an extrovert with a never-ending curiosity streak, and, you’re right, addressing the issue directly is key, regardless. My mom’s habit of incessantly asking you one million questions about incredibly inane details annoyed the holy hell out of me as a teenager. As an adult, I’ll just say, “Ok, I think I’ve hit my question quota for the day. Let’s talk about something else,” or “I really don’t have anything else interesting to say about this,” and change the subject. She’s already well aware that I think she asks too many questions, but the only way to stop the train is to be up front about it!

    3. betty (the other betty)*

      And for everyone! I’m not on the spectrum as far as I know, but I can tend to be very literal, especially if I’m not completely concentrating on what you are saying or doing . Tell me what you want from me! Don’t expect me to guess!

    4. JSPA*

      “You know, Y bothers me. What would make me happy is X. Could you do X?”

      The cue-blind non-asshole will then at least attempt to do X.

    5. cheluzal*

      Yes, I taught a brilliant student with Asperger’s and I was firm in tone and clear in directions. He liked me and really listened and followed class instructions. other teachers either a) were too soft in their approach or b) yelled in frustration.

  3. Amber Rose*

    “Ironically, your coworkers, in their desire to be kind, are being cruel… they’re allowing him to annoy and exhaust the whole office. That’s not in his best interests, professionally or socially, and he’s no doubt experiencing a lot of isolation as a result…”

    Memorize this, or print it out on little cards, and repeat to anyone who tries to tell you you’re being rude or unkind for being blunt. Some people need bluntness. I’m not spectrum at all and still need bluntness from time to time. Social cues are sometimes more subtle than you think, and more subtle than they need to be. No need to dance around the subject. If something is bothering you, say so.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Absolutely this. And I’m not sure it’s even bluntness. OP can be kind and direct, and Bob needs that directness. It’s much worse, imo, to let someone continue to behave discordantly and then let that poison the working environment or relationship.

      OP, use your words. Be kind and direct. Snark has useful scripts, below. Use them in a kind but firm voice.

      1. Snark*

        Yeah, let’s be super clear: this is just direct communication. Bluntness would be something else entirely, but stating, clearly and with words, what you need from someone? That’s not bluntness.

        Blunt: “Bob, go away, this conversation doesn’t include you.”
        Communication: “Bob, it’s a little awkward for you to stand there staring while we’re talking. If you’d like to contribute, please feel free to join in!”

        1. Darcy Pennell*

          I think “if you’d like to contribute, feel free to join in!” is still way too indirect. It doesn’t sound like they want him to join in, but the desired outcome “… so please stop standing over us and go back to your desk” isn’t said at all. Someone who gets social cues would understand that’s what “if you have something to contribute” really means, but if he could pick that up he’d get it from “did you need anything” which they’ve already tried.

          1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

            I agree that is too vague. I’d run with, “If you need me or Jane for something, we should be done in about 5 minutes and Jane/I can stop by your desk. Could you wait there until we are done? Thanks!”

        2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          “Bob, this is a confidential matter between Jane and myself, could you please give us some privacy? We’ll be done in 5 minutes if you need something!”

    2. EddieSherbert*

      +10 Definitely a reminder that most people need to hear regularly!

      I had a friend in college who really struggled to end conversations, and I constantly had people who observed our conversations tell me I was rude with how I ended them. But it was necessary and she was fine with it :)

      1. Asenath*

        That reminds me of a time I was chatting with someone I knew casually and couldn’t figure out how to end the conversation politely because she was such a talkative person. I found out later that she had been thinking exactly the same thing about me! That was a prime example of missed cues going both ways! Cues are an invaluable social shortcut, but they don’t always work, and when they don’t, it’s acceptable to be more direct.

      2. it's-a-me*

        Last night I was walking with a coworker after work, and casually discussing something about work. I literally had to walk a different direction, so had to go ‘I’m going this way now, sorry, bye!’ while he was starting to ask me a question.

        I think I thought about and second guessed that interaction for about an hour afterwards. Was it rude? Did he think I was rude? Is he going to be annoyed tomorrow? Do I restart the conversation tomorrow at work? Do I apologise again?

        For the record, I had already walked about 100m on a tangent to the direction I wanted to go in.

        I doubt he even remembers the interaction.

  4. Sloan Kittering*

    In addition to being helpful to Bob, it’s also a kindness to yourself to focus on own needs. You don’t want to make Bob sad, but you yourself are very sad because he is following you to the train every day. So someone is already sad here: you. Remember, it’s just as important that you meet your needs as that you meet Bob’s, and in fact it’s okay to prioritize your own needs.

    1. VictorianCowgirl*

      This is wonderful advice and so nicely put. My friend always used to say “being true to yourself is always the best choice for everyone involved”, and I do think that’s very true.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        or if it isn’t best for everybody involved, maybe that’s just … not always your problem to solve?

    2. it's-a-me*

      It’s so hard to convey this sometimes because some people seem to have this 100% one way or the other attitude. I remember telling someone on a forum that they needed to look after themselves instead of destroying themselves for a mentally-ill friend. Immediately 2 or 3 people jumped on my comment crying about how I was apparently advocating abandoning someone because of their mental illness.

      No, dudes, I’m just saying you need to be healthy yourself in order to help others.

      I like to use the Oxygen Mask example. If the oxygen masks drop in a plane, you must put on your own before you help others. If you help others first, you’ll lose consciousness quickly, and then you can’t help anyone. Help yourself first, then others as much as you can.

  5. Peridot*

    If you don’t say anything to Bob, I imagine you and your coworkers will continue to get more and more annoyed with him, and it will poison the relationship even more than it already has. I would feel really awkward needing to have these conversations with him, but it has to be better than all of you sitting there, day after day, silently hating him.

  6. Snark*

    I will never fail to marvel at the level of guilt, shame, weirdness, and awkwardness people have over stating their needs clearly, unambiguously, and civilly to other people, neurodivergent or not.

    OP: tell Bob what you need from him, as Alison says. You and your coworkers own all this awkwardness. You’re kind of being inconsiderate and patronizing to him, even as you attempt to dance around the issues and accomodate him. You can end it.

    Some more scripts:

    “Bob, I really don’t want to ride the train home with you. I like to use that time to be alone and shift gears from work.”

    “Bob, since you’re not part of this conversation, it’s a little awkward for you to stand there silently. Since this really concerns only Jane, can you let us finish up?”

    “Bob, you’re so kind to take an interest in what I did last night, but really, I’d prefer if you just said hello in the morning – I’ve usually got a lot on my mind and need to start working on clearing my inbox/starting my to-do list/whatever.”

    “We’re getting a little derailed on eating habits, can we get back to the llama grooming updates?”

    You get the idea. Just say what you need. I feel like a solid half of the questions I see in any given advice column can be boiled down to “use your fkin words already.”

    1. Labradoodle Daddy*

      I can’t speak for everyone else but I’m gradually trying to un-learn that weird hesitancy around communication (I’m 27, for reference)

    2. ArtsNerd*

      As a “ask culture” convert from a “guess culture” upbringing (a life-changing framework for me to think about social niceties) it took me a LONG time to learn how to explicitly assert my needs and I’m still learning.

      Scripts like these and Alison’s are SO helpful when you’re not used to communicating directly.

      1. Snark*

        The hazard is waiting until you’re annoyed af before actually using those scripts, which is where I fall down! They still need to be delivered kindly and warmly, not snappishly and bluntly.

        1. Mystery Bookworm*

          I think this is more common than people realise. They *think* they’ve been sending a clear message, so when they finally snap — it comes across as overly harsh to the other person who didn’t even realise a message wasn’t being received.

          It can require a lot of self-awareness to pick up on though; I don’t think anyone has mastered it 100% of the time.

      2. AMT*

        Ctrl-F guess cultu–ah, there it is. Yep, I come from an indirect family and I have the same problem. As with the LW’s officemates, my first instinct is to try to convey my needs through hints and body language rather than say what’s actually on my mind. A book that has helped me recently is “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.” (And I say this as someone who absolutely hates business books.) It talks about asserting your needs while preserving the other person’s feelings of safety in the conversation — because what sometimes happens is that we recovering “guess culture” people go to far in the opposite direction and say things in a blunt or sarcastic way. It might be the perfect book for the LW’s situation because there’s going to have to be a finely-tuned median point between softening the message too much and insulting the overly friendly guy’s character.

        1. ArtsNerd*

          I cmd-F-ed “guess culture” and was surprised at zero results so made sure to use those terms!

        2. ArtsNerd*

          Also: Crucial Conversations is something that’s been recommended to me many times as a use resource. I should finally give it a real look.

    3. Bunny Girl*

      Learning to advocate for my own needs was honestly the best gift I could have ever given myself, as a woman. So many people just don’t take hints and you have to be blunt with them. For example, I work for a college, but I am getting my degree at another college. I have my reasons for this and it works really well for me. But I had one coworker who just could not wrap his head around it and he brought it up in every single conversation I had with him. At first I just said, you know this works better for me. Then I said, it’s weird that you bring that up every time we talk. And then I straight up said “Look, I don’t know if you realize this but it comes across as really condescending when you constantly question my education choices. I am doing what works the best for me and my learning, and it’s not something I’m going to discuss with you any further.” And it absolutely worked. He hasn’t brought it up except to ask me how things are going once in a while. He doesn’t talk to me as much as he used to but I wasn’t his number one fan to begin with so no huge loss.

    4. Guacamole Bob*

      I could as easily say that I never fail to marvel at people who have such easy confidence that their needs are the most important most of the time.

      Determining when to accept something that is not exactly what you want and when to speak up for your own needs/preferences/desires is thorny, complicated, and influenced by a host of cultural and individual factors. Lots of people spend lots of time in therapy trying to figure out where the boundaries are.

      If you walk into a coffee shop and see a long line when you’re running late, do you clearly, unambiguously, and civilly tell everyone waiting that you need to get your coffee fast and cut to the front? If you were the OP from this morning would you clearly but kindly tell your colleague with the oxygen tank that you can’t sit near her because of the noise? If not, then sometimes you’re weighing your own needs or preferences against your cultural understanding of manners and fairness and deciding that your own needs do not trump other people’s all the time.

      OP’s boundaries are in a different place than yours, and I don’t think that’s always a bad thing. Plenty of people could shift a bit towards erring on the side of getting along and being kind to people instead of the side of being entitled and demanding.

    5. neverjaunty*

      Snark, while I always appreciate your comments and share your preference for being direct, please consider that the reason people – especially women – don’t always “use their words” is that they’ve learned that it won’t get them what they want and might even get them in trouble. It may seem obvious to you (because, let’s be blunt, you’re a dude in a career and culture where being direct works) that people should just do X, but rarely do people fail to do X because it simply hasn’t occurred to them.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Please stop sniping at people here. If you want to disagree, please do it with substance rather than snark; the latter makes this a less pleasant place to be.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        “rarely do people fail to do X because it simply hasn’t occurred to them.”

        Another thing for the AAM quote samplers!

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        I totally agree with your deeper point, but I think there are plenty of women who fail at being direct because it hasn’t occurred to them. The cultural conditioning to put others’ needs first and not to rock the boat, especially with men, can be imprinted really deeply. Like, OP might be annoyed that she gets asked these same questions every morning, but just telling this guy politely to knock it off may not have seemed like feasible option. It goes so counter to how many women have been socialized that it wasn’t like she did a risk/reward analysis and decided no – it just doesn’t come up in the first place as an alternative. There have been plenty of equivalent situations where I just kind of assumed that any change had to be on my end with how I dealt with it, and that being rude or asking someone else to change just didn’t occur to me. I’m working on changing that.

        (And I’m a woman, despite the username.)

        1. ArtsNerd*

          It goes so counter to how many women have been socialized that it wasn’t like she did a risk/reward analysis and decided no – it just doesn’t come up in the first place as an alternative.

          YUP. I don’t agree with the assumption that everyone should already be able to do this easily, and it is heavily (though not exclusively) gendered.

          But I do think there’s value in expressing the ways in which other folks interact with the world is baffling — if you are genuinely interested in an explanation — genuine discussion about different ways to think about deeply learned behaviors. FWIW, I didn’t read Snark’s post as being dismissive at first but now I can see how lots of replies are keying into that interpretation and how it’s problematic.

        2. AMT*

          Yep. The question underneath the question was something like, “Are my needs around space even important, and if so, are they more important than Bob’s feelings/social needs?” It seems like she’s doubting her right to even have these boundaries and maybe thinking that her wish to be left alone sometimes is inherently “mean.” It can be hard to get over those feelings, even in a “safe” situation where your feedback has a high likelihood of being accepted.

      3. Kettles*

        “they’ve learned that it won’t get them what they want and might even get them in trouble”

        1000 times this. If stating your needs gets you, at best, ignored, you will rely on indirect communication.

      4. Snark*

        I understand and appreciate that directness is easy for a guy who works for the military, and that’s a fair thing to point out. However, I didn’t hope to imply that this hadn’t occurred to OP; presumably she’s heard of being clear and direct, and I understand that it’s harder for women, generally, to be blunt.

        What I was getting at (perhaps unclearly, as I reread it) is more how people psych themselves out when dealing with weird, potentially fraught, atypical situations – it’s not that she was categorically unable to be blunt, it’s that she was overthinking the notional impoliteness, meanness, or awkwardness of dealing plainly with this particular possibly neurodivergent fellow. I have gotten versions of this, from people unsure how to navigate my hearing loss.

        1. JSPA*

          Yep. People deftly navigate known social currents, but bob around when faced with the world’s Bobs. Or any other “apple plus apple = noggin” conversation. (Purely random? Hidden clue? Inside joke? Misunderstood word? Hallucination, extrapolation, interpolation, mistranslation?)

          Nobody wants to be the one who doesn’t get it, or the one who calls someone out on their not getting it. But as the awkward builds up, there’s eventually no way through without embracing some awkward, and getting some on you. (It’s OK, it shakes off pretty easily.)

    6. I Took A Mint*

      Oof, in the guess culture where I work these would be so rude! This is really a case of know your culture.

  7. SittingDuck*

    I also wonder if since he is new he is trying to ‘join’ every conversation in order to learn as much about the company as he can.

    I was guilty of this at my current job, when I was new 5 years ago I’d also jump up and ‘join’ conversations that had nothing to do with me, and sometimes even add my input (when I knew SO little about the company!)

    My boss eventually pulled me aside and told me flat out that I needed to cut it out. If someone wasn’t talking to me, or hadn’t asked me to join the conversation, then I should not join. Period.

    I hadn’t realized at all how my willingness to learn more about the company was being perceived by others – as annoying and out of line. I quickly remedied this (although it took a lot of active thinking and holding my tounge when I really wanted to chime in sometimes) but my boss later told me that I had made a vast improvement and the big boss had noticed.

    Sometimes people just need to be told bluntly that what they are doing is not okay.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      It is really hard though! There’s a lot of anxiety around being new and sitting silently at your desk trying to accept that you can’t join in conversations. It’s definitely a skill that you have to learn, being okay just showing up as a person in the room.

    2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      This was my first thought as well. If he’s not being catered to interactively (as in, he’s been there for four months and he’s looking to make a work buddy he can bounce ideas off) he’s going overboard in trying to get this need met, and subsequently annihilating your (and your co-workers) needs.

      What is the rest of your office culture like? Just from reading the opening paragraph it sounds like everyone sits in silence most of the day, and keep entirely to themselves unless there is a question that requires a short answer which is quicker verbally than over IM. Is there *no* social interaction between co-workers? If so, he just may be a very bad culture fit.

      1. PVR*

        Also my take on this. If he’s an extrovert all the silence and culture of not greeting him in the morning may feel more personal as though he’s being ignored. Even though not greeting each other is standard in OP’s office, that’s fairly unusual in my experience. He could feel extra desperate to make a connection and the ignoring him is just making him work harder to try and fit in. I kept picturing this letter from his point of view. Dear Alison, I’ve been at my job for 4 months now. No one talks to me ever! I make a point of saying good morning to everyone and trying to contribute to the few conversations that take place but I’m just not making headway. What am I doing wrong?

    3. Sarah*

      “Sometimes people just need to be told bluntly that what they are doing is not okay.”

      Yes, yes, and yes. I had a manager who, after I led a training/team building afternoon, pulled me aside and said, “Hey – I just wanted you to know that how you phrased some positive feedback with the team came off a little patronizing. I know you didn’t mean it that way, but it came across more like a teacher praising students that don’t know what they’re doing instead of like capable adults responding to basic questions. Instead of x phrasing, I’ve found y works better.” (I’d include the phrasing, but it was several years ago and I forgot the specifics.)

      Was it mildly embarassing? Oh yes. I kind of wanted the ground to swallow me up. Was it the helpful, kind thing for my manager to do? Absolutely. She told me in no uncertain terms what the problem behaviour was, why it was a problem, and how to fix it. It made things better for everybody else who attended the training after that and it helped preserve my relationship with my colleagues and remember the impact subtle word choices can have.

      Bob sounds like he needs that same kind of directness. It’s awkward, especially when you haven’t had to do it, but it does a WORLD of good – not only because the behaviours should stop, but because you and the rest of your team will be able to build a better working relationship with him when you’re not constantly annoyed with him.

  8. [insert witty username here]*

    The letter says Bob is on “our team.” So does he report to OP? If so, I think she definitely has standing to have a broader conversation with him about the typical social environment of this office (I’m thinking specifically about the typical morning quietness that others prefer, work conversations that don’t involve him, etc). She could also cite this as a reason for walking alone to the tram (“don’t want the optics that you get extra time with the boss others don’t get!”). This would still include the direct language Alison said, but could come in the form of coaching him how to “read the room” in this specific office.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh! I had read “I don’t work directly with him” as meaning she’s not his manager, but if she is, then yes, she absolutely can and should do what you’re describing here.

        1. [insert witty username here]*

          Got it! I wasn’t sure.

          That said – the other manager you mention, it sounds like she’s not his direct manager either? Maybe a conversation with his actual direct manager could be appropriate feedback. I’m thinking something along the lines of “so what’s your take on Bob and how he fits into the culture here? I’ve sensed my team is a little exhausted by him – how is he feeling about the environment here?”

          1. Introverted Manager*

            I see that script as being indirect still. If Bob’s manager is OP’s peer, I’d phrase it as, I’ve noticed this behavior is affecting me and my team in this way. I wanted to give you a heads up that it’s happening and that I will redirect him where my own team is affected. This gives Other Manager an option to give more context if they’re already working on this and would prefer a consistent approach.

            If Other Manager is higher up, I’d just adjust to ask if they have any issues with that approach. If they’re reasonable, it will be fine. If they say no, you may have to accept that Bob won’t be changing any time soon.

  9. Wing Leader*

    I’m on the spectrum, and I agree: You’ve got to tell him clearly and plainly what you do and don’t want.

    Whether it’s because of autism or another reason, he’s not picking up on your frustration. Or, even more likely, he is picking up on your frustration but doesn’t know why and doesn’t realize that it relates to him. For all you know, he thinks your frustrated because you always have to walk to the tram alone, so he’s trying to help you.

    You just need to have a kind but firm conversation with him, and make sure you don’t “dance around” or just “hint” at what you’re trying to say. Be direct and plain. Also, if you’re worried about hurting his feelings, just make sure you don’t cut him out completely. So, you could maybe say something like:

    “Please don’t follow me to the tram after work–I prefer to go alone. But Sandy and I are having lunch in the lunchroom tomorrow and we’d love for you to join us!”

    1. Snark*

      This is a great point: “For all you know, he thinks your frustrated because you always have to walk to the tram alone, so he’s trying to help you.”

      Yes! The neurodivergent in my life are not stupid. They’re not oblivious. They see and notice that people are irritated, exasperated, holding something back. It’s just not intuitive to them why those things might be, and their interpretation might be correct or not but there’s a reason for it. Which underlines the essential cruelty of endlessly trying to obliquely signal disapproval and annoyance.

      1. Snark*

        Also: my read is that he’s asking his morning questions because a counselor or book or something suggested them as ways to build rapport and interact with people in the morning, and he interpreted them as a script rather than as examples. Again: reasonable but incorrect conclusion from first principles.

        1. nonymous*

          If this is his first adult job, his experience to date may be that the litany of greetings *is* appropriate. For example, it would be appropriate at church or as part of a long-term volunteer situation (where people see each other only periodically and part of the purpose is developing a support system) or in a less professional organization (and asking about personal life allows you to gauge if that team member is hung over and would prefer not to be assigned to the loud machinery station).

        2. WakeUp!*

          This strikes me as fanfic. There’s no particular way you could know his reasons for asking a lot of questions, unless you’re extrapolating based on your own or others’ experiences.

      2. Mystery Bookworm*

        Exactly. And while I appreciate that Bob might be neurodivergent, it’s also worth remembering that what’s going on in people’s heads is really not fundamenally intuitive to ANY of us. Some of us our better at guessing, but it’s still an imperfect skill and we’ll inevitably run into situations where our intuition is way off. It can be due to cultural differences, personality quirks, whatever.

        But it’s not inherently stupidity when we don’t pick up on something, and it’s not inherently condesending when someone spells it out.

  10. East of Nowhere South of Lost*

    And I thought the ‘aggressive Good Morning’ person I used to work with was bad. She would block my path intentionally until I smiled and said cheerfully ‘Good Morning’ back to her, and then engage in meaningless banter. All I wanted to do was get to my desk! If i simply said ‘Morning’ in passing, that wasn’t enough for her. If I tried to step around her, she would follow me and get louder with her ‘GOOD MORNING’s. I cringed seeing her anywhere in the hallway, she would follow me thinking we were now ‘friends’ because we ‘Good Morning’d’.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Good morning is one thing, but the banter is where I draw the line. I do think in some cultures its quite unfriendly to walk past someone stone faced and not acknowledge them at all in the morning – a polite hello as you walk past is really not a major ask. But the chatter kills me.

      1. East of Nowhere South of Lost*

        I was fine with simply ‘Morning’ in passing, but she would get in my way, ‘smile’ in this creepy way and loudly say ‘GOOD MORNING’, until i faked a smile and did the same thing. Then she would get this satisfied look on her face and ask me how my morning was etc etc… Lady just let me get into my office!

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          “It was going great, until now!”

          I’m sorry. The Good Morning lady sounds terrible. Chasing people around the office with a loud “good morning”! That’s the level of being annoying not even my grandcats would ever stoop to.

        2. Sc@rlettNZ*

          She sounds exactly like an ex colleague of mine. I’m the first to admit that I’m not a morning person but I’m perfectly happy to respond in kind if someone says good morning (heck, sometimes I even initiate it!). But a simple ‘morning’ wasn’t enough for this person. She wasn’t happy unless people responded GOOD MORNING as though they’d won the lottery. She even went so far as to complain to HR (not about me). Completely pathetic behaviour from a middle-aged woman who should have had more sense.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            I freely admit that I’m privleged in that I get to set the “tone” of stuff around here, but I have worked with/for others over the years.

            This kind of crap would get a “get out of my way” from me. And no I’m not a mean person, I’m actually quite nice, but I simply can’t take this kind of unnecessary, aggressive BS, even ehen I was the lowest woman on the totem pole.

            These days I tend to just do something like “morning everyone…” as I keep walking towards my office. Everyone knows to not bother me with non-urgent stuff until I’m halfway through my second coffee…

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Someone like this would just fuel my determination to not give her what she wanted, no matter how obnoxious she was being trying to force me to give in.

      1. East of Nowhere South of Lost*

        The worst part is if i complained, i sounded really off and mean for not wanting to say ‘good morning’ and avoiding her if i saw her in the hallway.

        1. Grapey*

          Sounded off and mean to other people besides her? tbh I would consider that far better than actually participating in the stupid song and dance routine.

    3. Sled dog mama*

      I think I work with her now, and I say that because the idea that there is more than one of these people is just…..I can’t.

  11. RUKiddingMe*

    “…but in this case, you do need to, for his sake as well as your own.”

    I’d venture to say that whatever employee you may be speaking with at the moment will likewise be grateful that he’s not all in the middle of whatever is being discussed too.

  12. De Minimis*

    This is a rough situation for everyone involved. I have a feeling Bob is probably trying to follow a script that he thinks will help him show interest in/otherwise relate to his new coworkers, but it’s obviously not working out. I’ve had coworkers who don’t pick up on conventional social cues [and possibly have been that person at times] and it’s draining for people to have to deal with that.

    I agree with the advice to just kindly put it out there that you like to have alone time when going to and from work. I think his overall behavior at work is probably going to be tougher to address, but maybe starting with the thing that is affecting you personally will help.

  13. Jam Buddy*

    I had a co-worker like this as well. She was very friendly and talkative and usually so during our lunch hour which a lot of people used to decompress (it was a stressful, customer-facing role). It took a while to click that “Yes, I’m annoyed that she keeps talking to me when I’m trying to be quiet, but on the other hand, I haven’t expressed to her that I’m trying to disconnect for a bit.” I finally told her, “Hey, I would love to talk about that in a bit, but could I have 15 minutes to myself? I want to have some time to decompress.” She totally understood and remembered that for future interactions. It was such a huge weight off my shoulders too, because no longer did I dread walking by her since we both had a mutual understanding of both of our social needs.

  14. AshRadSki*

    I have a Bob at my office too! She also stands next to us when we’re having one-on-one conversations, just listening. And she repeats things on the phone over and over, to the point where it drives the rest of us in earshot crazy (think calling client #1 and hashing out a problem. Then calling client #2 and hashing out the same problem. Then calling client #2’s boss and hashing out the same problem. And so on. This will go on for over an hour. And its unnecessary, because the clients will communicate with each other). The difference with my Bob is that she has been a long-time employee (think, 30+ years) and everyone here accepts her behavior as-is. When I arrived, I tried very hard to set boundaries, but the office culture here is to treat her with kid gloves. I wish it was more acceptable in my office to kindly and gently give her guidelines.

    1. W*

      The best is when my office Bobette walks up to me and tries having a conversation when I am already on the phone. I don’t respond and she will stand there for several minutes while I’m carrying on a conversation with a conference call. This is all pretty obvious since I am holding a phone to my ear, and talking.

      1. AshRadSki*

        My Bobette does the opposite, sort of. If she is on the phone and you come to her desk to ask her questions and don’t see that she’s on the phone (we all sit backwards facing, so sometimes its hard to tell) she plugs her free ear with her finger. In our job its sometimes necessary for the receptionist to interrupt you on a call, and since she hashes out problems for hours at a time, its often especially necessary to interrupt her. But she instead PLUGS HER EAR.

        1. PVR*

          Honestly? I have to concentrate extremely hard in order to properly process auditory only information (phone calls, podcasts, talk radio). Background and competing noise is very difficult for me to contend with. Depending on the nature of the call and how clear the call quality is, I cannot properly give the correct attention to the person on the phone if someone is talking to me at the same time. I used to think I had a bit of a hearing problem but now I realize it is more of an auditory processing issue. I do just fine—but I have definitely plugged my free ear when I was having trouble processing what was being said to me on the phone. So this doesn’t seem strange to me. Slide me a note, send me an email or IM but for the love of all things holy, please don’t talk to me while I’m on the phone.

      2. Samwise*

        Tell person on phone, “could you hang on a minute?” Turn to Bobette and say, “I;m on the phone now, I will let you know when I can talk [better: I will come to your desk when I can talk]”. Then immediately turn back to your phone call. If it happens again, do the same, but when you talk with her, ask her to please just signal you or chat you [or use slack or whatever your office does] when you’re on the phone and you will respond when you’re done with your phone call.

    2. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

      Our new receptionist is like Bob too. He says, “good morning, how’s it going?” and has a canned response to everyone who walks by every time (I’m ok with one first sight good morning but the 5th one?). If you open the door to a conversation he wants to tell you all about what is going on in his life. The thing is, he is a job placement from a homeless veterans shelter and is just tickled pink about his new apartment, getting a microwave, being able to go to the movies, etc., so I am torn between being friendly and, “Dude, I really need to pee and can’t talk”, so I am shorter with him than most. I’m hoping this is just the learning curve for working in an office environment and it will wear off after some time.

      1. AshRadSki*

        Awww yeah I can see being torn between being genuinely excited for him and wanting to chat, but also needing to get to work and just get through the door.

      2. Yorick*

        OMG my old department chair would interrupt my conversations to say hello to me for the 7th time that day.

  15. anon anon*

    As an actual austitic person: if this was me, I would be mortified if I found out all my coworkers felt like this.

    And then I’d be really, really, annoyed. Because we don’t get this stuff. We don’t pick up on social cues. We don’t pick up on hints. We need to be told these things, directly and often multiple times. If this was me and I found out that my entire office has been walking on eggshells because they can’t figure out how to say they don’t like my behavior? I’d be really frustrated! I try hard enough as it is to fit in and be personable! And now you’re telling me I’m doing that wrong? We just can’t win.

    With regard to Bob, it really doesn’t matter if he’s autistic. Just tell him, politely and clearly, that what he’s doing isn’t working. By not telling him, you’re reinforcing his behavior, indirectly or otherwise.

    1. annakarina1*

      I was diagnosed on the spectrum as a kid, and had problems with social cues well into my twenties, having to work at being better at recognizing them and not coming off as an awkward dork. I would hate it if people weren’t direct with me, and just treated me in a patronizing way, shunning me, or had a feeling like, “Ugh, here she comes.” I would prefer someone to be direct with me, in a constructive and helpful way, so that I could improve and not make others feel uncomfortable. Otherwise, as I felt growing up, I would feel like I had a bad smell on me that everyone else could smell but me, and wouldn’t understand why I would turn off so many people or be seen as the “weird” one.

    2. Tau*

      +1ing as another actual autistic person.

      I admit I find this frustrating because I have so much in the way of fear and anxiety and self-esteem issues arising from this problem. I navigate life in full, agonizing awareness of the fact that it’s possible I’m annoying everyone around me but because they don’t want to be ~unkind~ no one is letting me know in a way that I can understand. I second-guess so much of what I do. I lose friendships because I convince myself I’m annoying the other person but they’re being ~nice~ and not telling me so. And it would be a lot easier to knock it off if this sort of thing hadn’t actually happened to me before.

      OP, my shoulders went around my ears when I was reading this letter because like Gregarious accountant, as a potential Bob this is my actual nightmare scenario. I commend you for wanting this state of affairs to change. Please do not listen to your coworkers claiming that being direct would be unkind: the way they are treating Bob is far more unkind than the most awkward wording you could come up with.

    3. AJK*

      I am not on the spectrum but I have ADHD and struggle with social cues, and I second this. I had a previous job where two of my co-workers, who seemed so friendly, wrote various versions of “she inserts herself into every conversation” in my employee review without saying a word to me about it. I was absolutely crushed. If they’d said something – as awkward as the conversation probably would have been – I would have known they found it annoying, and I would have stopped.

      The therapist I saw after working at that job diagnosed me with social anxiety disorder – I don’t blame that one incident, but it certainly did make a lifelong condition worse, and I am still dealing with it. The way the OP describes Bob is absolutely my worst nightmare – one day they will lose it with him (or tell him indirectly like my coworkers did) and he’ll be so hurt.

      You can be clear and direct with him without being unkind. It’s far better than what is happening right now.

  16. Oxford Comma*

    I usually come down on the side of coworkers saying good morning, pleasant greetings/questions in a general sense, but this is extreme.

    I agree that the kindest, most effective thing here is to be direct.

  17. Sally*

    Hi Alison, I think the penultimate sentence here –

    What your coworkers are doing is more like thinking, “We don’t want to let Bob know that we’ve noticed he doesn’t understand Spanish. We’ll just keeping speaking French and ignoring him as much as we can.” And they feel like they’re being kind by doing that!

    – should be “We’ll just keep speaking Spanish and ignoring him as much as we can.”

    1. blackcat*

      LOL @ the idea of coworkers being so annoyed that they switch to yet another language to make sure Bob can’t participate in their conversation.

      But seriously, speaking in a language that not everyone understands when a mutually intelligible language is an option is super rude.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        But speaking a language that is commonly (if not universally) spoken isn’t actually all that rude.

        1. MarsJenkar*

          It is when you are expecting them to understand it, and they clearly don’t, yet you keep speaking it expecting them to understand it. When there IS a viable alternative for everyone involved. That’s basically what’s happening here.

  18. Moonbeam Malone*

    I think you might also be doing him a kindness if you can tell him the culture in your office is such that people keep to themselves a bit more than he may be used to. I certainly can’t know for sure, but he might be overcompensating for social awkwardness by being Extra Super Outgoing! And he might be relieved to be let off the hook on that count. (And it’s nice to know when people around you are a little more reserved in general, and it’s not necessarily them giving you the cold shoulder!)

  19. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    This is no different than any type of office culture situation, except the newbie isn’t the one writing in. He hasn’t been able to adapt to your office culture, and you’re doing nothing to help him. You can’t get upset with him if nobody has provided feedback on how he’s acting. Whether he’s on the autism spectrum or not is honestly besides the point. Some people just don’t pick up on subtlety or hints and as Alison said, you need to be direct.

  20. Belle8bete*

    Poor Bob. For whatever reason he clearly does not get it. I really hope folks speak to him kindly but clearly instead of letting this just drag on and on.

  21. Moving*

    All of this! Just tell him. It is seriously OK!

    I found it awkward at first with one of my friends but it is OK – and does get easier. And from his point of view, he’s happy when I spell it out rather than stressing him out having to guess.

    Like if he starts joking on phone when I want a quick answer, I will say “I just need information” or “I’m too tired to have jokes right now”. And it’s OK. It is telling him what I need which is more relaxing for us both than playing emotional twenty questions.

  22. FD*

    In regards to the questions, one thing that might be helpful is to say something like this: “Hey, Bob, one thing I’ve noticed is that you tend to ask the same questions every day. I know that’s coming from wanting to be polite and social with us. But because it’s always the same questions, it’s coming across as more of a script than as small talk. Could I ask you to limit it to say, one or two questions in the morning and vary them a little? I think that’ll really help it feel more natural, and it will fit better with the culture of our particular office.”

    I think this could be helpful irrespective of whether Bob is neurodivergent, because it asks for what you need but also provides some context. It *does* seem likely, based on the fact that he always asks the same questions, that someone at some point coached him to ‘ask questions to show interest in his coworkers’ life’, so giving some context for what’s not working might help him stopping one behavior only to slide into another similar mistake.

    1. LQ*

      I suspect a lot of this feeling will go down a bit if it’s not quite so much, in large part because everyone else does it too. “How are you?” “Fine, you?” “Fine.” Script. “How about that weather!” “It sure is weathery!” Script. Scripts aren’t evil. I have dozens of How To Human scripts, please please don’t try to take those away. Take a moment and ask yourself why it is so important that someone come up with novel questions rather than “How are you?”

      I’m entirely on board with being direct on all the rest of it. But yeah, he might have a script about how to show interest in his coworkers life. That doesn’t mean he isn’t interested it means he needed some help on how to express it. I don’t think scripts are inherently evil and needing to be stomped out.

      1. FD*

        Yeah, the issue isn’t having a script, it’s more that it sounds like script. It’s sort of like the difference between watching a play on a stage and watching something stage-y, where something about it draws your attention to what’s going on.

        What I’m trying to go for is that when you ask the same set of questions every day, it draws attention to the fact that it’s a script. It breaks the illusion, and makes it feel unnatural.

        For instance, I suspect if Bob had a couple more questions and varied them a bit, it wouldn’t feel so intense. For example, suppose that on Monday he sees Phyllis and asks her how her weekend was. On Tuesday, he asks her what she thought of that crazy traffic his morning. On Wednesday, he comments about the weather. That would feel more natural even if they’re actually all drawn from a pool of ‘small talk’ scripts, just because he’s varying them slightly and making minor tweaks to adjust for context.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


          The “adjusting for context” part is huge. One of the questions OP mentions specifically is whether people did anything interesting after work. I dunno about y’all, but after work on a weekday I’m not exactly going out for a wild time — I’m going to go home, have dinner, pet my cat, and partake in some quiet, relaxing hobby that I may or may not want to talk about in the office. (Probably not, as my hobbies include World of Warcraft and writing fanfiction.) That answer is going to be the same Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

    2. Batman*

      From my perspective, the issue isn’t that it’s the same questions every day, it’s that he’s asking questions that aren’t really any of his business (and some that are too personal) and also because it’s probably coming across like an interrogation rather than a conversation.
      Several years ago I was at an event and a man came up to talk to me during a break. I think he was kind of trying to flirt, but what he actually did was ask me a question, wait for my answer, ask me another question, wait for my answer, etc. He often didn’t leave me time to even ask the same question back to me and he never responded to what I said or tried to add anything of his own, it was just question, answer, questions, answer. It was annoying and off-putting because it felt like an interrogation or an very scripted job interview.

  23. Storie*

    This reminds me a little of a movie set-up. What About Bob? He’s annoying to you and yet could wind up being your best friend. Just kidding, but I do feel for Bob. I’ve never worked in an office where no one talks in the morning, so maybe your workplace seems especially quiet to me. It doesn’t hurt to say good morning. I agree many of the other behaviors go way too far, but perhaps you could meet him halfway? It’s a little unreasonable, in my opinion, to expect every new person to fit perfectly into your culture and I think you have to look at the intentions. A gentle talk with him is a good idea, from whomever is most appropriate. Then at least he can be aware and decide if he even wants to work in an office with a very specific culture. OP, if you ever happen to do something interesting at night, I hope you make a point to tell him.

  24. Alfonzo Mango*

    I think a one-on-one conversation with his manager would be best, and then hopefully that manager would have a one-on-one with him. I don’t think calling him out individually in the moment is the best first line of defense – it might embarrass him further.

    1. Sunny*

      But I think it’s fair to suggest that as a manager-level person herself, OP can model appropriate behavior for others.

  25. smoke tree*

    Since Bob sounds like a friendly and well-meaning person, he’ll probably respond well to polite redirects–basically what you’ve been trying to do, but in plain language rather than hints. If you tell him you’re in the middle of a private conversation, or tell him that you prefer to take the time to unwind alone at the end of the day, I think he’s likely to respect that.

    Depending on how much you want to engage with him and help him connect in the office, you could try the strategy of setting a particular time to talk to him–say one lunch hour a week (or whatever seems doable). Then when he’s getting overbearing, you can tell him that you’ll catch up at that time. For the morning interviews, personally I would just answer the question that he’s really asking (essentially “how are you doing”) and avoid getting sucked into the specifics.

  26. AMT*

    This advice is spot-on. This is one of those classic advice column questions: “So-and-so is being weird, but they might be autistic, so how do I deal?” The answer is invariably that there aren’t any special modes of communication for autistic people. Directness is a kindness, just like with a neurotypical person. And if you’re direct and he still doesn’t change his behavior, that is *not* a symptom of his non-neurotypicality, because autism doesn’t make you selectively deaf! You can then address it in the same way you’d address anyone else not listening to people’s direct requests. He doesn’t get a pass because you suspect he has social issues (and, really, for all we know, he might be horrified that anyone’s thinking of treating him differently because of that).

    1. Jaybeetee*

      I think the struggle is, for a lot of people who aren’t used to being so direct, it can feel rude to talk that way. And if you’re inexperienced with “directness”, it is possible to over-compensate into “rude” (not necessarily the most likely outcome, but a possibility that I imagine people in these sorts of situations worry about). Thus, assistance with “how do I word this in a way that is more direct than I’m used to, gets the message across, and doesn’t cross the line into rudeness?” You don’t want to under-do and still not be clear, but you don’t want to over-do and blast the damn guy. And if you’re not experienced talking that way, you may not be secure that you can toe that line.

      1. AMT*

        Totally agree. I come from a culture that values indirectness and tact, which means that I struggle with feeling mean and nasty just asking for things that I need in a neutral way. I think what sometimes happens is that indirect people find that they’re not being understood by people who don’t readily pick up on social cues (i.e. neurodivergent people), so they think that they need to communicate in a different way with those people — which is true, but they actually just need to be more direct with *everyone*!

  27. W*

    Yes, this is super annoying. I have a colleague who is new and seems upset if we don’t each spend 30 minutes when we first arrive talking about tv shows. You need to civil to your coworkers but they can’t hold you hostage each and every morning because they are not picking up on social cues. I also worked with a woman similar to Bob and it was excruciating. If you sat in the break room reading a book, she would walk in and begin talking for 45 minutes about her dog, her garden, etc. without the other person even making eye contact. The break room was rarely used because of chatty Kathy and no one could stand her. If Bob is young you may be doing him a favor but subtly and kindly telling him to stop involving himself in too many conversations. This woman spent years annoying coworkers and was not liked by anyone at our workplace because of it.

    1. Samwise*

      Did you ever say, Hey Kathy, I’m trying to catch up on some reading — can we chat another time?

      I feel sad for Kathy…years of trying to be friendly and all it got her was being disliked by everyone.

      1. AMT*

        I mean, you can feel sympathetic to people who aren’t good with social cues while also acknowledging that one of the responsibilities we accept as adults is being mindful of whether we’re grossly breaching social norms, whether or not our coworkers call it out explicitly. It would be *kind* to do that, but talking to people about their behavior is tough, and sometimes the Kathys of the world react badly even to gentle feedback. I admit that my initial reaction to an experienced coworker constantly monologuing to me when I’m reading would be something like, “She’s fifty and I’m probably not going to be able to change her personality. Better to just avoid her when I’m on my break.”

  28. IWasBob(ette)*

    I was in an office like this. I didn’t go over the top with the morning greetings but when people were talking socially, I’d try to listen politely (since they were right by my desk) and comment when appropriate. They, in turn, would just look at me coldly, turn a way and continue talking to each other while ignoring me. And it was like this from Day 1. Ironically, they considered THEMSELVES to be ‘a friendly corporate culture’, which I found privately laughable. When the project was complete and they suggested renewing my contract, I politely declined.
    My point is: despite being a grown up with friends and a life, it’s hard at any age being the odd one out.

    1. ChimericalOne*

      I have to admit, I’m still not quite sure when it is or isn’t appropriate to chime in/join a conversation when 2 (or more) people are talking near me but not to me. I think it depends on your relationship to them (i.e., if you’re not close, you’re expected to pretend they’re not talking audibly near you & give them the illusion of privacy, but if you are friends, you can always jump in), but the marginal cases (we’re friendly but not friends, we’re work friends but not close friends, etc.) still get me. And what about if people are trying to figure something out & you think you have a solution? Or just something interesting to add?

      I used to assume that anything I could hear was fair game (to the point where I’d pop around the corner to add to a conversation in the next row of cubicles), but I’ve figured out since that that’s kinda intrusive. So now IDK. Maybe if you’re just walking past at the right moment, it’s okay, but otherwise butt out?

    2. Jennifer*

      Yes, I hate this. Like if I overhear people talking about a tv show that I also like and chime in, they look at me like I have a disease. I would think that would be an appropriate time to join in a conversation. I’m not just standing there staring.

      1. Tigger*

        I had this happen to me all the time in the cube farm. Ironically the person who was looking weirdly at me was SITTING on my desk.

    3. stitchinthyme*

      Oh god, I feel this so much. I am still smarting from an incident that happened probably something like 20 years ago: I was taking an adult swim class at the local YMCA, and before class started a couple of the other women in it (whom I didn’t know) were talking near me, and I chimed in, and one of them looked at me coldly and said, “We weren’t talking to you.” I managed not to cry, but to this day I am very, very cautious about chiming into conversations I’m not part of, even when I know the people involved. I flat-out won’t do it at all if it’s strangers.

      1. Jennifer*

        I’m so sorry. I can remember several incidents like that from when I was younger. It’s like how in the world are you supposed to make friends when everyone is so cold and nasty about anyone even daring to speak to them? That’s why I have a bit of sympathy for Bob. I think he just wants friends.

        1. caryatis*

          You have to judge the context and whether it is a situation meant for social interaction. At a party, yes, chime in! Complete strangers at the gym–no.

          1. Jennifer*

            If you don’t want to talk to someone, you don’t have to in any setting, but you can be kind about it. “We weren’t talking to you,” was unnecessarily cruel.

          2. stitchinthyme*

            Yeah, learned that one the hard way. And I also learned that if a stranger chimes into my conversation, I should do my best to be nice to them, because even if it ISN’T polite to insert yourself into someone else’s conversation, it’s just as rude to be mean in response.

            1. stitchinthyme*

              …And much more hurtful. I think that of the two faults (interrupting a conversation and being cruel to the interrupter), the latter is way worse.

          3. stitchinthyme*

            Not sure if it matters, but they were talking about the class and their comfort level in the water, not about any personal topics. Either way, I acknowledge that chiming in may have been rude, but I would bet almost anything that neither of them would remember that incident if you asked them about it now, while it still hurts me 20 years later whenever something reminds me of it, and still affects my interactions with other people. It doesn’t seem like a little kindness should be too difficult, even when someone else makes a minor mistake.

            1. animaniactoo*

              fwiw, my usual in that situation is to say “I couldn’t help hearing your conversation, do you mind if I say something?” because that gives them the ability to say “no” (although they likely won’t) and the understanding that I know I am joining someone else’s conversation that they may not want me to be part of. And then backing out of the conversation again immediately unless they show that they’re open to talking to me more after having heard me out.

              The last instance I can think of is two students next to me on the train having a conversation about trying to learn various applications for their art school and me asking if they’d like advice on a place to find good tutorials. They happily accepted and then I went back to reading my book on my phone.

            2. Belle8bete*

              Those people were rude. There’s no reason to reply like that. Seriously, that’s not pro-social. You CAN reply that way but it’s a mean way to reply. People aren’t perfect. How would they like it if they were talked to that way. You didn’t do anything wrong. Normal people wouldn’t have shut you down that way.

          4. ello mate*

            Hmm I’m not sure I agree. I take a lot of classes and I definitely initiate or join in convo’s that are loud and non private while waiting for a class to start. How else would you ever meet anyone?

      2. BadWolf*

        Wow! And ironically, attending adult swim class at the local YMCA could probably on the list of “How to make adult friends”

      3. Gigglemesh*

        My goodness! Are you sure it was an adult swim class? Sounds like that woman stopped emotionally maturing around 7th grade. Some people can be so nasty for no good reason.

    4. Observer*

      What you are describing sounds rough. But it is not at all like what the OP is describing. Except in one aspect – no one told you why they were so cold to you.

    5. OP*

      It’s very normal for people to join/chime in on common social conversations and despite how I may have portrayed my team, we do often engage in group discussions about TV shows, our personal lives, etc. The issue is not him joining those convos, it’s him standing over people silently when they’re engaging about work, which makes people uncomfortable. If he were just sitting in his chair listening, I wouldn’t care. Bob joins our social convos, and it’s totally fine! The problems I pointed out were that he persists in asking more detailed questions that can make someone uncomfortable. It’s not the fact of social interaction, but the way it’s being carried out. Obviously the overwhelming advice has been to just be direct and kind, which I totally agree with. I just needed an extra push because my colleagues have felt differently.

      1. Jennifer*

        That’s good to know. He just needs to know what questions are off limits and when he is welcome to socialize. I hope he just doesn’t shut down completely.

  29. irene*

    I feel like this could be me! Except that I was rebuffed enough in high school for these behaviors that I’m a little bit the opposite at work now (I struggle to remember scripts and employ them effectively, so I try not to be the one to actively engage others). I do kind of hover, though, and I try to stop myself, but I want to be involved and aware and have some social interaction, and it typically goes bad if I try to participate on a personal/social level. I’m better at work topics, and I’m also better at not hovering in a work context, thanks to clear feedback early in my office days.

    You gotta tell him you don’t want to walk to the tram station, if nothing else. He may feel a bit of embarrassment or hurt for the rejection, but there’s no way to go from the current status quo to a more positive and collegial relationship unless he knows why his current scripts and so on aren’t working. I would do it gradually, first one thing, then “hey don’t hover”, then “no need for the morning routine, a ‘hi’ to people you see as you walk to your desk is fine” etc. But that’s just because hitting him wiht the “you are Too Much” all at once is going to be hard for everyone, and he might need to process each part of it as an individual script adjustment.

    1. Blue*

      On the plus side, I’ve found that hovering is one of the easier social behaviors to ask people to stop. If it bothers you (and it does bother me. A lot.) it’s pretty simple to be like, “Hey, did you need something? No? Cool, would you mind moving away or taking your seat while we’re talking? I have a weird thing about people hovering near/over me – it really bothers me for some reason” or “I find it really distracting.” I’ve been doing this since people would hover around my dorm room door in college and everyone has always responded favorably, I think because I frame it as my issue, not theirs.

  30. IDontHaveANameHereYet*

    For the love of all that is good, stop armchair diagnosing annoying people as autistic.

    Those of us who are actually autistic get zero slack but then people bend over backwards for people they’re assuming about




    An actually autistic person who has to put up with “maybe he’s autistic” while simultaneously being held to higher standards than definitely neurotypical people

    1. Not today.*

      I’m also uncomfortable with hearing the diagnosis so often invoked (and not just hear AAM community). I have relatives that are severely autistic. They will never have anything resembling a normal life. Ever. But I’ve noticed that now, people have a picture of autism that is not so severe. One that is more quirky, difficult, and odd, but not terrible. That’s why I also hate it – maybe I am just jealous, or maybe I hate how casually it’s thrown around. Thank you for saying your piece.

      1. Close Bracket*

        > One that is more quirky, difficult, and odd, but not terrible.

        I’m a person on the spectrum who is more quirky, difficult, and odd than terrible (I hope–maybe I am actually terrible). I think the reason people like me have become the face of autism is that we are visible in public and are leads in TV shows whereas the people who are affected to the point of being unable to lead a typical life are not out in society holding down jobs and going to movies.

        There is a level of autism that practically indistinguishable from non-autism, and it actually kind of pisses me off when people who are slightly quirky and awkward either self-diagnose or are armchair diagnosed by others bc there is so much more to autism spectrum conditions than being quirky and awkward. There are also other things that can lead to poor social skills, like childhood trauma. The armchair diagnosing also pisses me off bc as another wise and autistic commentor once pointed out, the people who get slack for possibly being on the spectrum are overwhelmingly male.

    2. Gregarious accountant*


      The more I think about it, the more irritated I get. Instead of this letter being about an office of introverts who aren’t using their words, we’ve got an excluded Bob who is being diagnosed by the OP, MD.

    3. Tisiphone*

      This is exactly why I love sites that have a “no armchair diagnosing” policy. As soon as I saw the possibility of autism mentioned in the letter, I cringed.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s relevant to this letter because it’s causing the OP’s coworkers to think being more direct with Bob would be mean. (In fact, it’s the opposite, but it’s their worry that’s part of the crux of the question.)

        1. IDontHaveANameHereYet*

          Please use your allistic perspective taking ability to consider literally the words I said;

          People armchair diagnose annoying people like Bob to avoid using their words

          But when someone is actually autistic and they know it and others know it, we get zero slack. we get held to much higherstandards.

          We have to tolerate schrodinger’s autistic’s terrible behavior while simultaneously getting no wiggle room at all.

          Truly the op’s armchair dx is not helpful, though it is ableist.

          1. AMT*

            I think that was Alison’s point: that the reason autism is relevant to this letter is not the coworker’s social behavior itself, but the fact that his coworkers were using his maybe-autism as an excuse to treat him differently, which is ableist. (I do want to acknowledge the validity of the point you’re making, though — that neurotypical people often use autism as a “catch-all” excuse for poor social behavior, and that autistic people are sometimes held to standards to which neurotypical people aren’t.)

          2. Stardust*

            “People armchair diagnose annoying people like Bob to avoid using their words”
            That’s certainly true–we see it here all the time!–but don’t you think Bob’s behavior is more than just “annoying”? Honest question. If I met someone who had very clearly memorized a social script they used like clockwork every single day I’d not think that they’re simply annoying–I’d immediately assume they have some neurodivergence issue. Now for me personally, that’s because I’m actually close to two people on the spectrum and they used to exhibit much the same behavior but I can only assume that this is outstanding enough that even those who aren’t intimately familiar with autism might jump to this conclusion, simply because it’s one of these things that get paraded around as “typical for autistic people” somewhat frequently.

            1. AMT*

              Does it actually matter to this situation that he might be autistic, though? Would a label tell the LW anything she doesn’t already know (that he doesn’t respond well to social cues and might do better with directness)?

            2. Name Required*

              It doesn’t change the advice at all if this person is autistic or not. It isn’t relevant. It’s speculation on a private medical matter that hurts autistic people by reinforcing stereotypes — regardless of Alison’s personal feelings on these stereotypes, she included information in a letter that shows that multiple other people do think “these characteristics” = “autism”. I’m not sure that we need to know the reason why OP’s coworkers think being direct in this case is mean, just that they do.

              People like to fetishize autistic folks as secret geniuses on one hand and disparage them on the other for being “OMG so socially awkward.” People without autism are still capable of displaying all of the behaviors that OP is so frustrated with. IDontHaveANameHereYet shared a comment with us about their personal experience being negatively effected by people armchair diagnosing others with a condition that effects their life, and your response is ask them to validate your armchair diagnosis? … yikes.

    4. smoke tree*

      I think this letter is a good illustration of why armchair diagnosis is a bad idea. Apart from the fact that it draws a direct parallel between autism and annoying behaviour, those assumptions can encourage people to take a very misguided approach to dealing with the behaviour. I’m thinking it’s likely because the people who make these assumptions probably don’t know much about autism, and they get the idea that being autistic means that people are immune to or incapable of addressing their annoying behaviour, so they react like the LW’s office has here. It’s like some sort of Dunning-Kruger offshoot–the less you understand about autism, the more likely you are to make weird assumptions about it.

      (I don’t mean to implicate the LW in this, because it sounds like this attitude is coming from her coworkers.)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The label matters only in that the OP’s coworkers are using the possiblity of autism to tell her not to be direct with him because they think it would be mean. It will be helpful for her to point out that if he does have autism, being direct is actually kinder. Just as it is kinder if he doesn’t, as well.

        1. JamieS*

          If it wasn’t “autism” they’d avoid being direct because he’s new or because he’s a nice guy or because he might turn violent or because he might think they were discriminating against him or any number of other ridiculous reasons. They just don’t want to be direct with him. The excuse they used isn’t really relevant.

  31. Jennifer*

    This honestly reminds me of an episode of Kimmy Schmidt. If you aren’t familiar with the show, she was kidnapped and spent 15 years trapped in an underground bunker. She didn’t understand social cues as a result and was driving everyone in her office crazy. The office set-up on the show sounds a lot like yours too.

    He may not be on the spectrum. He could just be someone who was super sheltered, wants friends, read suggestions on How To Make Friends at Work and is following them too religiously, or he may just be an extrovert that happened to get hired at an office full of introverts.

    You can sit down with him and let him know, firmly but kindly, that his overtures are sweet but unwelcome. For someone who really doesn’t get social cues, you will have to give specific examples of behaviors that you find irritating. That’s what worked for Kimmy. Best wishes.

  32. nnn*

    I’m so curious about Bob’s thinking in asking people every day what they did last night and what their plans for tonight are! Does Bob normally have something worth mentioning happen in his life every night after work? Does he think other people do? That’s just…way to frequent an inquiry to be conversationally fruitful. I wonder if he finds it conversationally fruitful?

    In terms of actual advice, since OP mentions upthread that they are a manager but not Bob’s manager, it is absolutely your jurisdiction to intervene when Bob’s conversational attempts are bothering your staff (“Bob, I need you to leave Lucinda alone – she has a lot of work to do”), and absolutely your jurisdiction to have a conversation with Bob’s manager about how he’s interfering with your staff’s work, perhaps adding that he’s asking your staff so many personal questions that they’re getting uncomfortable.

    Advice for Bob’s manager: Alison and many commenters have stated that it’s a kindness to directly correct Bob’s interpersonal skills, but I know that correcting interpersonal skills can also seem just…wrong somehow. If, for whatever reason, you aren’t prepared to approach this from a perspective of correcting interpersonal skills, you can still approach it as a boss correcting their employee’s behaviour. “You’re wasting too much time chatting with your colleagues. Everyone has work to do – including you – and we don’t have time to go over what everyone did last night and is doing tonight.”

    1. animaniactoo*

      It is likely that somebody told him that this is how people show interest in each other and are friendly towards each other, but failed to discuss the nuances of “occasionally” vs “regularly”. So he does this because it is his best understanding of how to be (perceived as) friendly to his coworkers.

      Depending on how socially awkward he is, somebody might have to break the rules ALL the way down before the interaction would come off as normal to most people. i.e. if someone told him it should happen about once every two weeks, he might ask every two on Tuesday, and he might ask everyone. So people would walk in knowing that “it’s that Tuesday, I’m going to get Bob’s script again today”. So he might need the direction all the way down to the detail of “it should not be every person that day, and it should not always be exactly two weeks, the day should vary” and so on.

      1. LilyP*

        Yeah, the endless questions also make me think someone told him the (actually pretty good) rule of thumb that asking questions is a good way to make conversation and make the person you’re talking to feel interesting/valued/heard, but he hasn’t quite got the hang of how to apply that correctly in practice.

    2. Batgirl*

      I think he thinks ‘the point is to show interest!’ So he sits there happy at extending something sociable and friendly while the other person is grinding their teeth thinking “No! For the millionth time no! Just say ‘how’s it going’ and leave initiating chat about myself to me because I have no life reports for you!”

  33. Loot*

    It really does sound like Bob is following advice that has been given to him in how to engage with coworkers (and thus foster a friendly relationship between him and all of you). Or following advice on how to make friends, workplace edition.

    And if he really doesn’t pick up on the hints you’re sending him (as opposed to maliciously ignoring them, which doesn’t seem to be the case here), then he is being successful in following the advice. Put yourself in his shoes here, and see it from his perspective. He’s being friendly and asking about your day, then you all are friendly and answer him. (Short answers can be explained by “they might just be tired/in need of coffee” or “they just aren’t the type of people to give long answers.”)

    Stop hinting to him that you don’t like it (when you also answer him and are friendly, that’s pretty mixed messages you end up sending), and just tell him the next time you see him: “hey, Bob, I’m sorry but I’m not really up to answering these questions every morning. Can you skip me from now on?” (And if you are friendly in your tone (and not irritated), then this isn’t a mean thing to say.)

    Same for the train thing. He sees it as a great opportunity to become friends, and it sounds like you’ve only given him excuses that he thinks are problems he can solve (and once he solves them you guys will now be social on the way to and on the train).

    You can follow Alison’s script of “I prefer to be alone to decompress,” but I’d actually go with the stronger “I *want* to be alone to decompress.” It doesn’t have to be a Serious Talk that you have to set aside time for, you can just say at the end of the day when it looks like he’s gonna tag along again: “sorry Bob, I want to spend this time alone to decompress, thanks for understanding.” Then pop on your headphones and trot along.

    Regardless of what you do say to him, never make it out to be that you speaking on behalf of everyone. (I.e. not “WE aren’t up for talking in the morning,” but always “*I*’m not up for it.”) If the others want the same as you, then they can tell him themselves. (And this isn’t to be mean to your coworkers, but because you are setting your own, *personal* boundaries with him.)

    1. Jennifer*

      “It really does sound like Bob is following advice that has been given to him in how to engage with coworkers (and thus foster a friendly relationship between him and all of you). Or following advice on how to make friends, workplace edition.” Yes, I thought the same. Whatever article he read didn’t tell him that sometimes you try to make friends with someone but they aren’t interested in being friends with you and you have to move on. I noticed many times they don’t cover how to handle rejection.

  34. Midwesterner*

    For the listening to other work conversations, it’s possible that at some point he was told to pay attention to other people’s conversations around him instead of ignoring everything not directed specifically at him, which in general can be helpful in the workplace, but he misinterpreted it as going to stand there and listen rather than just overhear what is naturally going on around him. Maybe it would help to clarify what is expected of him in that situation.

  35. LaDeeDa*

    Not everyone who is awkward, who doesn’t pick up social cues, or is seen as an “odd duck” is on the spectrum.
    Regardless, be direct. You may think you are giving easy to interpret cues/hints– but obviously, they aren’t working. Stop hinting and just say what you want or don’t want– all Alison’s scripts are perfect. Be kind, don’t be snarky, don’t roll your eyes- just be direct. “Bob, I can’t walk with you to the train. I need that time to decompress and leave work behind, so I am at my best when I get home. But thank you for the offer!”
    And as Alison said, people may think they are being nice by not saying anything and avoiding him, but what they are really doing is isolating and excluding him — he is likely feeling a little desperate for some interactions with his colleagues!

    1. animaniactoo*

      Which means he is doubling down and trying harder instead of backing off and giving people breathing space to feel comfortable interacting with him. It’s a downward spiral on both sides.

    2. Justin*

      “And as Alison said, people may think they are being nice by not saying anything and avoiding him, but what they are really doing is isolating and excluding him — he is likely feeling a little desperate for some interactions with his colleagues!”

      Yes, this for sure.

  36. stitchinthyme*

    I had a coworker who had some similar traits to this. He once got reported to HR for asking intrusive questions about another employee’s ethnicity, and although my interactions with him over instant messaging tended to be pretty normal, every time I was actually in his physical presence, it creeped me the hell out. There was this one time where they did an on-site training class and during the lunch break I grabbed some food from the cafeteria and brought it to a table just outside the classroom, planning to read while I ate. Coworker comes over, stands near the next table, and just stares at me, not saying a word (no one else was around). I wolfed down my food and left because it was so uncomfortable.

    There was some speculation among my other coworkers about whether this guy was on the autism spectrum (sorry, IDontHaveANameHereYet – this was more than 10 years ago and I’m trying to be better about not doing that sort of thing). My strategy then was simple avoidance: I didn’t work directly with him, so it was fairly easy to just stay away from him most of the time.

    I’m learning more all the time about how cruel the world is to non-typical people — not just non-neurotypical, but LGBT, POC, those with physical or mental disabilities, etc. — so I’m trying to do better.

  37. animaniactoo*

    Here is one thing that is guaranteed: When somebody struggles with normal social interactions, it means they don’t get why it should be that way. All the unwritten rules that most people have long since absorbed? They haven’t. And quite possibly they never will.

    In which case, the very kindest thing you can do is to be as clear as you possibly can about the ones that are the most out of norm (because otherwise you’d be picking on them for every last little thing and yes, it’s clear that you want to avoid that – which is probably why you’ve avoided saying anything). You can try to explain why. If they don’t get it, it’s not necessarily up to you to get them to accept the “why” (and they will probably be perfectly happy not to keep trying to understand). It’s up to you to make it clear what the rule is.

    So, for instance, when you tell them you need them not to stand there and listen in on the conversation you can say “it’s distracting to me”. You can try to explain the “illusion of privacy”, but that is likely more than they may be able to absorb and ultimately what you need to get across is that you’re asking because it’s distracting and you need it to stop – please. And it doesn’t matter why it is distracting to you, it just IS so please stop since it is not something they need to do.

    Where they will struggle is that they will sometimes misapply that rule because they don’t get the why. But when they are consistently screwing it up, they need help. And not picking on every last little thing is not anywhere in the same universe as not saying anything.

    But overall – it is the same kind of correction that you would call out for anyone else “Jane, you may not have picked up on this but Abernathy is easier to approach in the afternoon.” who you were just trying to look out for when you noticed them doing something wrong consistently and getting bad results from it. You will just have a few more to call out with Bob than you do with most people. And that’s okay – because communication is your friend here, helping both of you understand what you need from each other in order to be comfortable around each other.

    1. Storie*

      Wow, I totally agree. What if he’s writing his own letter: My new job has an office full of people who seem offended when I ask them about themselves…

        1. Storie*

          And OP is somehow not effectively giving the impression she does not appreciate his friendly overtures.

          We have her side only, and I think it can be helpful to imagine what his perspective might be, apart from oblivious.

          There are many comments here that seem to pile on Bob as a clueless, atypical odd duck and it feels a little derogatory to me.

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            Being asked a scripted list of questions by a coworker every single morning, is not my idea of a friendly encounter. It’s an awkward, ham handed attempt a friendly encounter that obviously feels more like an unwelcome intrusion to the op and many, if not most of her colleagues, as well as a lot of us here. Anyone who is not a “clueless, atypical odd duck” would have figured out by now that there daily inquisitions are unwelcome.

        2. Batgirl*

          Right? Bob isn’t picking up on an cues and people are going along with it all, so what would he be offended about?

    2. Observer*

      Thanks for the really good example of why so many people – women especially – try to avoid being clear and direct with people. The OP is a jerk because she >gasp< doesn't want to walk to the ram and ride with a coworker! Because, of course, the fact that he wants to trumps her desire to decompress.

      1. Storie*

        I think she just seems very awkward because she can’t manage to verbalize this to him. And yet, she seems to imply there’s something wrong with HIM for not understanding. If she told him, and he kept at it, it would be another story.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I really don’t think she’s implying anything more than the simple statement that he doesn’t seem to understand these social cues, and that she’s at a loss of what to do, especially as the coworkers in the group don’t want her to be direct with him. I think it’s pretty safe to say that generally, most individuals would have already picked up on a lot of the social cues the OP has stated they have all used, and would not continue to do the same actions causing everyone else some level of social distress. Saying that the *entire office* is rude is a bit…much.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            I think the ‘coworkers don’t want her to be direct with him’ is a pretty important part of all this, that’s not been discussed.

            OP’s getting pressured not to be direct. It’s not theoretical impact or reaction here.

            Kudos to Alison for helping explain why that isn’t helpful, and speaking up is better.

            OP, I’m Bob, sometimes. As mentioned below, letting IQ help me with EQ. I do so much better with explicit feedback. I think Bob will too.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              Very much so. I think though that it’s a misappropriated sense of kindness, which really is just selfish, not kind at all.

    3. DCompliance*

      I believe it is polite to give people a few minute to get settled in before you start asking them a bunch of questions. I don’t think it makes me a jerk because I expect the same treatment from them.

    4. Goya de la Mancha*

      People who are generally introverted or shy are not jerks. Being bombarded with conversation and questions can be extremely exhausting for us. We are constantly being told to “speak up/be friendly, you’re coming off as a jerk” – yet no one ever gets to tell the outgoing or extroverted people to “shut up and back off, you’re coming off as a overbearing jack ass”.

    5. The Francher Kid*

      No, they are not. Bob, for whatever reason, is not picking up on clear cues that he is crossing boundaries. The OP and other coworkers are putting up with it rather than correcting him because they are trying to be kind.

  38. FirstCommentEver*

    You’re advice was spot on, Alison.

    My sister has Asperger’s and when she comes over to my house, I have to point-blank ask her to leave. She doesn’t pick up on cues like, “Man, it’s getting late, I have to be up early.” Or even me slowly getting ready to leave/go to bed. It’s just, “Hey, Sister, I need to get to bed, it’s time for you to leave.”

    In conversations when she starts rambling about on every thing when everyone else has moved on, it’s “Hey, Sister, that was cool to talk about but we’ve moved on, what do you think about-“

    She understands that she doesn’t pick up on social cues and isn’t at all offended by bluntness (and actually prefers it).

    OP, definitely just directly tell him what you need from him.

    1. K.A.*

      As someone who has friends and family who are Aspergers, this technique works extremely well.

  39. LH Holdings*

    I often wonder how timid people make it in this world without being perpetually angry. You have a person who is doing something that you CLEARLY do not like and possibly have the power to change (for the whole group if you are the manager or even just yourself if you are not), but you have not SAID anything to him. Ignore the people at work who don’t want you to say anything to him; they are being cruel by complaining behind his back but not SAYING anything to him. Alison’s scripts are great (as they almost are) but all of them include actually voicing your concern to the person doing the troublesome acts.

    1. Crivens!*

      Can we stop acting like we live in a society that makes it easy for women to be direct and tell people to stop doing things they don’t like?

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Can we also stop acting like nonverbal communication is some weird alien moonspeak that is not a standard part of human socializing and generally recognized by a majority of people?

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Yes!!! Obviously when you’re talking about something in the abstract (and especially on the internet, where there’s no tone of voice, body language, social history and preexisting context, facial expressions – which probably makes up about 85% of meaning conveyance before you even get to actual language) it’s easy to be all “oh direct is always better!” but in real life, tons of people rely on cues/nonverbal communication strategies/hints/indirect implications to convey meanings and LOTS of people are able to navigate this successfully. The vast majority of the people I know are. When it’s successful communication like it is most of the time, it doesn’t come up as an issue, so there’s a sampling bias of sorts that can make it seem far more inherently problematic than it actually is.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            “When it’s successful communication like it is most of the time, it doesn’t come up as an issue, so there’s a sampling bias of sorts that can make it seem far more inherently problematic than it actually is.”

            This is a fantastic point.

        2. Tau*

          I like the way fposte phrased this upthread: cues are great, but you need a fallback for when they don’t work. Even if it’s a minority, there are still quite a few people out there who won’t pick up on your cues even though they have the best of intentions. If your response to that is “cue… harder?” it’s going to end in tears.

      2. LH Holdings*

        Can we stop acting like women do not have any agency and are able to do things that are difficult either due to socialization or personality? I have no qualms about the fact that it may be uncomfortable to have the question, that does not negate the necessity of having it.

        1. Crivens!*

          I’m only pushing back on the way you phrased yourself, which sounded like you thought people who have trouble with this kind of direct communication are just timid idiots.

      3. animaniactoo*

        Can we acknowledge that part of the issue is that we don’t fight back against that and speak up anyway until it starts becoming a normal part of the societal rules?

        And also that it is not universally true for all women everywhere, or limited to just women and that there is a lot more context to when it is “okay” to be direct and how to do it when you need to? That simplistically limiting it to “never being direct” to avoid tripping one of those barriers is an even worse issue than occasionally tripping one of them?

      4. Grapey*

        I get what you mean when it comes to dating/domestic issues where someone thinks someone else might be a genuine threat…

        But the vast majority of chatterboxes/unpleasant people aren’t like this, and really just do require a little bit of backbone to be assertive. As my mom said “Once someone calls you a b!tch for asserting yourself, it makes it easier for you to ignore their opinion about anything.” It gets easier over time.

  40. Storie*

    Just another thought–and I realize OP wants to handle this correctly and that’s why they wrote to Alison. But your reluctance/inability to say something in the moment (“Hey, Bob, can you give us a minute to talk privately here?”, “So sorry, but I actually love my quiet walk to the station.”, “Not everyone does something interesting every night, but if I do I will be sure to tell you!”), actually makes YOU seem like the awkward one. Being able to deal with different personalities and be direct in a friendly way is part of life, and office life for sure. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but as people pile on Bob, I have to say I think your office sounds on the uptight side and your attitude towards him a bit hostile.

  41. Justin*

    I wish someone had told me this stuff when I was more like Bob. (oh no, Snark will tell me it’s fanfic, and Snark, stop.)

    Please be direct. You don’t have to be mean. You are likelier to be mean if you hold it all in then explode and tell him to shut up one day.

    Maybe he does understand and is being a jerk. Maybe he doesn’t understand. Either way the solution is the same.

    1. Snark*

      No, I would not tell you that. You’re not disregarding what OP said to supply your own story, and you’re making the same point I made elsewhere. Roscoe can fight his own battles.

      1. McWhadden*

        You don’t think completely derailing the comments to act as knight in shining armor to the OP is more unhelpful than someone saying a misleading thing on the Internet?

  42. Sir Freelancelot*

    I had a coworker like Bob. I never knew if she had some mental health problem or if she was just awkward, but she would stop at my desk every – single – hour to chat with me. When I say chat, I mean asking me super intrusive questions, especially about my Country (if my awful English didn’t sell me away already, I’m not from the US). Every hour. The would ask to sit with me during lunch and keep asking if she could have a bit of my meal or trying to take one when I wouldn’t answer quickly enough. Being new in the US and not used to the overwhelming abundance of “please, thanks, could you” one day I just said “You’re stopping here a lot. I need you to understand you’re distracting me. I would be happy to talk to you during the breaks if you want, but if you come here to take my food I need you to stop. I don’t share my meals with strangers and I don’t like chatting that much.”. Got in trouble with my manager (he told me I was rude and too much direct), but it was worth it because she avoided me until the day she left the company. I just felt sorry for the next colleague she picked. What I want to say is: OP, I feel you!! I hope things will improve ASAP!

  43. MommyMD*

    “Bob, I need to walk to the tram alone after work. It’s how I decompress”. Rinse and repeat.

  44. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    A lot of what Bob does, sounds like he thinks he *has* to do those things. (The every-morning, every-person questionnaire, for example). Which makes me wonder, did Bob maybe come from an office culture where this was required? A few people in the comments have mentioned that they work in an office like that/enjoy working in an office like that. (Or Sir Freelancelot directly above me who got in trouble for asking the office Bobette not to help herself to his food – WHAT EVEN?!) I have no idea how anyone gets anything done in an office full of Bobs, but that’s not the point. I agree with all the advice to directly explain it to Bob that this is not the way to go about workplace socializing.

    The irony, to me, is that, if Bob had taken the time to get to know his colleagues better by working with them, solving problems together, and building a working relationship in that way, he’d eventually be welcome, if not invited, to ask what they ate for dinner last night and to walk them to train stops. He just did it all backwards. Instead of developing a relationship first and maintaining it later, he jumped straight to maintaining work relationships that do not yet exist. Sadly, by doing so, he probably killed every possibility of these work relationships ever developing.

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      “An office culture where that is required.”

      Ohhh yes I’ve been in those. “You didn’t sufficiently say hi to me when you walked in and I was both on the phone and trying to deal with someone in person, so you must be a hostile anti-social person who doesn’t fit in.”

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Right. And then when a person comes from that to an office like OPs (or mine), they come across as weirdly boundary-crashing. I did not have that experience in the workplace, but I did living in a dorm in college. For my first four years, I had two roommates that I had to do everything together with. If one of us went grocery shopping, all three of us had to go, if you didn’t go, you were considered standoffish and not carrying your weight. Finally after four years of me trying to fit in and failing, the roommates got a double room for themselves and I was randomly assigned to a room where two other young women from my year lived. The very first time one of them said she was going out for groceries, I started frantically getting dressed to go with her, and got weird stares. Turned out, outside of my old roommates, no one in the dorm had that weird fixation on everyone always doing everything together. My new roomies probably thought I was being oddly clingy; at least until they realized how relieved I was that I did not have to tag along every time. I lived with them for the rest of that year, and got along significantly better with them than I ever had with my old ones; because with my new ones, all three of us had the same ideas about how much space to give each other.

        1. Do they need a bathroom buddy too?*

          I cannot imagine living with people like the first set of roommates you described. What if you happened to be in class when one of them was going out for groceries?! Didn’t know you needed a buddy system for simple tasks. *eye roll*

    2. Snark*

      Like I said, my feeling is that he’s running scripts he’s been given by other people to engage socially – like, here’s some questions you can ask people in the morning to build rapport, Bob, and Bob is like, yes, I will ask everyone all of those questions and build rapport.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        It does sound like it! Poor Bob is probably wearing himself out trying to follow the scripts!

  45. a34yearold*

    I’d be interested to know the ages of LW and Bob. I have seen and increase in people wanting to not be as social at work in the ages of 20-35. I am not saying everyone (or lumping everyone into one category) but in threads like this, other places online and in my own work place. People want to work and then go on with their own lives after. I am not saying there is anything wrong with this at all. You have to do what you need to stay sane at work.

    I sort of wonder if Bob is either very young or older than 35ish. As many have said above and Allison, be honest but kind.

    1. Batgirl*

      The OP has added in the comments that the whole team enjoys social chitchat. It’s not Bob’s desire to be social that’s out of step, it’s his inability to read people while he’s trying.
      It’s not extroversion that’s turning him into a hoverer. A person with different (successful) experiences of ‘how much morning chat is too much’ still isnt likely to use a robo-script to engage in it. In fact they’d be much better at it through practice.

  46. Moonstorm*

    Be careful with the straightforward thing if you are a woman, though. I had a coworker with similar issues & the only way to deal with him was to be politely blunt. I was critized about “tone.” But coworker didn’t comprehend nuanced speech. I still got criticized like his issues didn’t matter.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The whole point here is that she needs to be straightforward. She cannot solve this problem without doing that. Yes, some women get criticized for a direct tone, sometimes. Many, many times we don’t. The answer cannot be to always modulate a reasonable tone.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, these “warnings” honestly get on my nerves from time to time. I’m quite direct and have literally never in my life been criticised for that. Of course I’m aware of societal prejudice and expectations and the fact that my “zero issues” situation is very far on the other end of the spectrum, but that doesn’t mean even something closer to it is unachievable; oftentimes, being direct turns out to have absolutely no repercussions at all and the only thing stopping the person were they themselves.

        1. AKchic*

          Yep, I have been criticized for being “too harsh” and “too polite”… from two different people about the exact same email. Funnily enough, the person who told me to send the email is the one who insisted I was “too harsh” (and was male). The one who insisted I was “too polite” was his boss (and a woman).

          At my current job, I’m rarely allowed to send correspondence out because I’m deemed “too harsh” and “not respectful enough” by the project managers. (Not so) oddly enough, they copy and paste my exact words from the emails I send them and use it for *their* emails sending my work to the people that need my work. Funny how that works…

  47. Jaybeetee*

    I am a Socially Awkward Person, and also used to work with a guy on the spectrum. Direct-but-kind is really such a kindness when people can do it, instead of silent judging and avoiding when someone gets it “wrong”. I tend to actually get anxious from time to time, even with close friends, that maybe I’ve done something to annoy or irritate them, and they’d be too “polite” to tell me, but… wouldn’t want to spend as much time around me. When friends go through particularly busy times/don’t have time to hang, I start wondering if I’ve “done” something. (Note: I’m aware enough that I wouldn’t run to follow someone to a train station who was already saying they were in a hurry, nor would I talk over someone’s earphones or insert myself randomly into conversations – I’m more the “linger awkwardly in a corner/lots of awkward pauses in conversations” type of awkward).

    My poor ex-colleague really shouldn’t have been hired to that role in the first place. It was a very “do your routine tasks, but also solve problems as they come up” kind of job, and he was the kind of guy who would get frustrated when his routine got interrupted. He’d get snappy at people too in that situation. I’m no expert, but I understood enough to know I needed to speak to him calmly, kindly, and directly when I needed something from him (or for him to change his behaviour around me somehow). Of course he was never trying to make people uncomfortable, and always listened when I did that. Our boss, an older lady who developed a dislike for him, essentially started treating him like a bomb before finally letting him go. She set him up to fail sometimes (he also had a serious stutter, and I still remember in one meeting she left an update he needed to give to the very end, then started telling him to “Do it quickly”. I.e. the opposite of what you should say to a person who stutters, with predictable results.) I understood why he was let go, but I still hate how she treated him leading up to that point.

  48. Not A Manager*

    I see a number of comments on here to the effect of, “he’s a friendly guy, would it kill you to talk with him a little bit?” “He’s a lonely guy, can’t you just act friendly?” “He really wants conversation, so have a little more conversation with him than you want to have,” “he’s a nice guy, so why are you not doing what he wants?”

    I just want to say that someone else wanting/feeling/being something doesn’t actually confer a responsibility on you to accept behavior that makes you uncomfortable, or to behave in a way that you don’t want to behave. Bob might be a nice guy, but that doesn’t mean that he deserves extra cookies. He might be a lonely guy, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to act like his friend (especially when they don’t feel that way).

    I’m actually appalled at some of the comments that imply (or outright state) that just because Bob is experiencing something for Reasons that means that other people need to change their (reasonable, socially acceptable) behavior just for him.

    1. Batgirl*

      I’m not at all sure that he wants a load of conversation. Sure, he might! But he’s using scripts that sound like he’s been instructed to do this. He might love to hear that ‘hi’ is fine for collegial purposes. It will certainly get him into more conversations if he drops the inquisition anyway.

    2. Pomona Sprout*

      Thanks so much for this. The comments of which you speak have been really getting on my nerves, and now I understand what was bugging me about them!

    3. Tau*

      And I do reiterate that even from the Bob perspective this is very unkind, because now Bob is learning that:
      – his behaviour works (it doesn’t)
      – he’s on friendly terms with his coworkers (he’s not)

      Seriously, the kindest thing you can do here is be direct. Give him as much information on the situation as he would have if he were able to pick up on your cues, and let him figure out how to go forward from there.

    4. JKL*

      I hate to break it to you, but refusing to chitchat with a coworker is not reasonable, socially acceptable behavior. I understand that Bob’s behavior is not ideal, there is room for compromise. Have a short conversation with him and then tell him you have to get back to work. A lot of commenters around here seem to think they can be professionally successful without ever developing friendly relationships with their coworkers and that’s just not true in most jobs. Participating in basic social niceties is a pretty important part of employment (and life).

      1. ket*

        This is not refusing to chitchat. The letter and further comments are very clear about that.

    5. AKchic*

      Thank you!

      Just because he wants something doesn’t mean he gets to have it from his work peers. It appears that he wants socialization and friendship. He may not get that at work. It is not his coworkers’ jobs to give that to him, supply that for him, supply him with alternatives or even direct him to alternatives.

  49. The Tin Man*

    That first paragraph of Alison’s response is *chef’s kiss*.

    I just hope that this is just a case of misreading/not getting social cues and Bob isn’t going to have a negative reaction. That shouldn’t change Alison’s great advice though because this should be approached as though Bob is a reasonable, if socially atypical, person.

  50. LGC*

    So, since this is an Autism Letter and I’m the self appointed expert on all things autism: the general advice is great as a start. (And yeah, maybe the armchair diagnosis isn’t great, but it’s there and it’s a reasonable conclusion.) Further, it’s great that he’s a Bob and not a Fergus (that is, he’s not toxically annoying you) yet.

    I’ll list what works for me personally – I’ll admit this is just me.

    -Don’t assume that I don’t know how to act in public. That is, just because Bob isn’t reading the room correctly doesn’t mean he can’t entirely and needs his hand held.
    -Surprisingly, you don’t usually have to be overly blunt with me. Definitely be more direct – but for example, with the tram thing, you might want to say that you really like to decompress on the walk home, so you’d just rather get home by yourself.
    -And let me know that your office culture is not very social and you guys are fine with that! If I were Bob, I could be approaching it like, “these guys are downers – LET ME FIX THEM!”

    And that last part is major. It might not be that Bob is Just Being Bob – he might be reacting to his own discomfort with the office culture in an inappropriate manner. (Ask me how I know!) So you might want to approach it from that perspective – not that you need to teach him how to be an adult human in public but that he’s like an overzealous intern that’s looking to shake up the company.

    Finally, if Bob has Feelings at you…that’s his problem.

  51. CM*

    I think how to be direct with Bob is well-covered, but you may also want a script ready to talk to coworkers who think you’re being rude to Bob. Something like, “I don’t mean to be rude — I think it’s kinder to help Bob fit in with our office culture,” or “I don’t want Bob to be excluded, so I want to be direct with him about how we usually do things here.”

  52. nnn*

    The consensus throughout this thread seems to be that if you’re direct with Bob, he will stop doing the unwanted behaviour.

    However, most, if not all, of my life experience with trying to get people to stop engaging in unwanted behaviour has been that if you call it out directly, they’ll get defensive with “But I’m just being NICE!” or “But I’m just making conversation!” and double down on whatever they’re doing.

    I know not all socially awkward people do this – I myself am a socially awkward person who will stop immediately and apologetically once I learn a behaviour is unwanted – but I think the answer could be enhanced with some advice on what to do if Bob isn’t amenable to stopping.

    1. Batgirl*

      I think theres more chance of defensiveness if it’s raised after eons f this being the norm or at the BEC stage. The quicker and simpler the better.

  53. Fiddlesticks*

    The LW may also need to be prepared for additional responses to shut Bob down in a final way if Bob doesn’t react appropriately to her direct feedback.

    As in, Bob is hovering at Jane’s desk while LW and Jane are having a conversation about Topic X. LW tells Bob, “This conversation doesn’t concern you and it’s distracting to have you here, so please go back to your desk”. Bob may follow her instructions, but he’s just as likely to say “Why?” or “But I’m not saying or doing anything, just standing here trying to learn about Topic X too.” LW is going to have to get a stiff backbone and feel really rude by saying “Bob, this isn’t up for debate, and I’m not going to discuss it further. You need to go back to your desk.” And if that doesn’t work, the matter will need to be escalated to a manager or HR.

    This is hard! We are all taught (especially women) that we should never be so blunt and cut our coworkers off with a curt dismissal. But, I have a feeling that Bob may not respond like LW’s “regular” coworkers when told to leave or stop talking, and she needs to be careful not to get drawn into a long discussion about WHY his behavior is inappropriate – since it seems that drawing coworkers into unwanted discussions is his modus operandi.

  54. StaceyIzMe*

    You don’t know that he’s on the spectrum. He might be. Or he might be a little high strung. In either case, I don’t think that giving him orders about where he can stand or a different script for the “good morning” is what will help. Ultimately, you need stuff. When social cues don’t get the job done, you want to loop in your manager (who will ideally observe and assess how to proceed). It’s fine to spell out a few things but trying to get him to change five things all at once might be a bit much or come off as intolerant. Your natural caution is actually GOOD, even if he’s driving you a bit bonkers at the moment. So, walking with you to the tram? “No. I’m walking alone.” Joining conversations “Ihis isn’t an open conversation.” The other stuff should come under the heading of “let management manage”. And you might want to take a few steps back from the idea that most of this is a Big Deal. (Don’t get me wrong, some of it is. But not talking out loud and changing how you eat lunch isn’t a balanced response. It’s a reaction that you can, and should, change. Either with a shift in mindset or a shift in behavior. You’ve tried behavior and seem to miss speaking aloud/ eating in the lunch room. Try mindset. It’s generally a more flexible response.) If being somewhat direct/ farming out the rest to management/ shifting mindset doesn’t get you as far as you’d like, THEN I’d go with the more mechanistic “tell it like it is, each and every time”. Thing is, that’s a bit much to start with right after hinting. This does strike me as something management should manage/ monitor, because an allegation of overreaction can spiral into other, more severe issues quickly.

  55. Asperger Hare*

    Well, this is literally one of my nightmares: that I’m unknowingly flouting some social rule and everyone’s avoiding me and thinking I’m weird and awkward because nobody is just Telling Me what I’m doing wrong.

    Please just tell him. It would be far, far kinder.

    1. Tau*

      Looking at the comments, it seems to be a shared nightmare for many autistic people. It really is weird that this behaviour seems to be engrained as the kind way to treat someone who’s struggling with social cues, considering it has the exact opposite effect.

  56. Ellen N.*

    It seems to me that the problem is that Bob and the company culture are incompatible, not that Bob needs to be “fixed”. It appears that Bob is extremely social and the workplace is extremely anti-social. In every place I’ve worked people say hi to one another in the morning, engage in conversation about one another’s outside of work life and join other peoples’ conversations. Many people would enjoy a buddy to walk them to their transportation home. In one place I worked people walked the stairs in teams during lunch. To me, the workplace described in the letter sounds unfriendly to the point of being cold.

    I believe that the best solution would be for the letter writer to talk to Bob one on one about this. She could say that while his work is fine, it appears that he landed in a company whose culture is not suitable to him. She could tell him that she would understand if he wanted to move on to a friendlier workplace and would provide a positive review of his work.

    I think the general population should leave diagnoses to medical professionals.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I think if you look at the OP’s specifics, and not generalities, you can see that isn’t the case. “People say hi to one another in the morning, engage in conversation about one another’s outside of work life…” Does that mean asking someone what they did after work every day, in a rigid, scriptlike format? Because that’s what the OP is talking about.

      1. Ellen N.*

        In the original post the original poster stated that it’s the norm for people to not say good morning and to eat at their desks.

        The updated comments make it sound like the employees are unfriendly specifically to Bob.

        I assume that Bob is using a “script” as a way to be included in what not sounds like a clique.

    2. Not A Manager*

      “She could tell him that she would understand if he wanted to move on to a friendlier workplace and would provide a positive review of his work.”

      Don’t you think that Bob would feel a bit… uninvited to remain at the job… after someone said that to him? You present this as some sort of kind consolation prize for him landing in an “anti-social” workplace, but if I were Bob I’d REALLY think everyone hated me if someone told me that.

  57. ShortT*

    Whenever people try to start conversations with me on the T, I take my earbuds out, say, in the kindest tone of voice that I can muster, that I’m not up to talking and that I need alone time. Then, I place my earbuds back into my ears.

    Whenever coworkers ask to join me at the gym, I also politely decline and say that it’s best for me to go alone. When pressed, I elaborate and say that I go to the gym for me time and that I don’t have the desire or emotional fortitude to run an unofficial personal training session.

    I have a friend with whom I occasionally go to the gym. He does his own thing and doesn’t expect me to babysit him. We often have dinner and make Home Depot and Target runs when we’re done. He also doesn’t make a pouty face when I tell him that I need, or even want, to do something without him.

  58. LaDeeDa*

    One of the best ways to onboard a new employee is to include them- and part of inclusions is letting them know about the unwritten rules at your company. Unwritten rules are the rules for success that are not written down. They are the should and shouldn’ts operating within an organization. The OP talks about how they are team that doesn’t say good morning, they sometimes eat in the breakroom as a group or sometimes alone- how is the new guy supposed to know this? How is he supposed to know when it is ok to join someone for lunch or not? Maybe invite him to join you.
    The other thing that struck me was OP’s comment about speaking to someone and him trying to join. Maybe he is trying to better understand what everyone does and how it all works together. What the OP could do is include him when appropriate “Bob, Sally and I are talking about the issues with the tea pot handle- you might find this interesting (or one of our other business areas you haven’t worked with yet has been tasked to../ you may here this referenced when we meet with X later in the month.)
    I think if he wasn’t feeling isolated and excluded he may not be so pushy with interactions. Maybe he is just trying to figure the dymanic out, better understand what everyone does, and how it all relates to him.

  59. char*

    I’m autistic, and “I’m annoying everyone around me but no one will tell me what I’m doing wrong” is my nightmare scenario. It happened to me a lot growing up, and let me tell you, it sucks to realize that everyone was acting nice but secretly couldn’t stand you, especially when even once you realize that you still have no idea what you should be doing differently.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      That sucks. I volunteer with an Autism group and hold seminars on how to interpret things people are doing and saying. What I really want to do is smack everyone else up-side the head and stop hinting– just say things!

  60. Wren*

    I love Alison’s response here. I’ve been thinking a lot about interacting and being friends with people on the spectrum lately, because my close friend realized recently, as we approach middle age, that she’s on the spectrum, and I’ve thought a lot about why we work as a pair of friends: because I will tell her explicitly how I feel about her (reassurance of friendship) even while I explicitly tell her if she’s doing something I don’t like and would like her to change (asking for what I need, without rejecting her as a person.) And I never did this out of any knowing how to best interact with people on the spectrum, I’ve just come from a place of assuming that people don’t always understand other people’s responses/behaviour/cues, and it could be for a lot of reasons. Other people’s inner lives, their past experiences, neurotype, family culture etc, all can contribute to misunderstanding. Being open to listen for this possibility and respond kindly, frankly and explicitly is useful for navigating all of this.

  61. MP*

    To the OP – I just wanted to add, please don’t beat yourself up at all with your response to this coworker. I am truly a kind person, with a lot of empathy, but people who can’t read social cues really bother me. I try to hide it as much as possible (to be kind), but ack! Especially when I’m busy, or in a rush, and someone can’t see that. I’m extremely emotionally intelligent, and my whole family is too – so I’m used to being able to communicate non-verbally and when someone can’t – it’s just hard. For those other commentators saying you shouldn’t be upset because he can’t read your mind – it’s not mind-reading, it’s picking up on non-verbal cues. Completely legitimate form of communication. Some people are better at it then others.

    One person at my church was autistic, and would trap you in long conversations. Very nice and smart man, though. He really liked my cat (we had an annual pet blessing ceremony). I *love* talking about my cat – which is super boring for most people. When I got trapped with him, I would steer the conversation to my cat, so that was pleasing to both of us.

  62. DanniellaBee*

    I am probably in the minority here but this office sounds really odd and Bob isn’t so much the problem as the rest of you are kind of rude and unfriendly.

  63. Not A Manager*

    I’m ALSO seeing some comments on here about suggesting to Bob that maybe this company isn’t the right fit for him. To me, that seems REALLY unkind and would freak me out a lot more than someone telling me not to intrude on private conversations.

    According to the OP, Bob’s work is good and his behavior isn’t heading him on a road toward termination. So people would essentially be telling him that HE might not be comfortable staying at the job for these purely social reasons. Which does sound mean and cliquish to me, if OP actually took this advice.

    “Bob? It’s totally not you, it’s us, but you’re, like, a really social person? Who likes to talk and chit chat a lot? And, like, we’re totally not like that? So… I just wanted to tell you… that if you felt like this was a bad fit? And you wanted to move on? Like, that would be totally fine…?”

    I mean, how do you kindly and helpfully tell someone that they are such a misfit that they might want to quit their job?

  64. sb51*

    Also, especially since OP clarified that she isn’t Bob’s manager: you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) dump a giant truth bomb on him. Make one minor correction the next time it comes up spontaneously, and see how he reacts! If blunt/direct communication helps him, he’ll respond well. If he’s deliberately ignoring cues, that will also be clear. If it’s somewhere in between, that’s where you can smooth things over—“getting” social cues isn’t all-or-nothing and a gentle correction may make him retroactively recognize the prior cues.

    For example (bluntness = good)
    Bob: I’ll walk with you!
    You: actually my commute is my quiet meditative time!
    Bob: Starts talking about his favorite meditative activity with the same enthusiastic expression…
    You: Thanks for understanding, see you tomorrow!

    But if he realizes he’s missed cues:
    Bob: I’ll walk with you!
    You: actually my commute is my quiet meditative time!
    Bob: sad/glum/apologizing profusely….
    You: It’s okay, you didn’t know. Then make one friendly/work friendly small talk to cement that it’s really okay, in the usual indirect-communication way.

    (In both cases you should probably allocate a couple extra minutes for getting to your train.)

    I haven’t listed the Bob is deliberately ignoring cues version but if you do this in front of other people they will see that Bob is being an ass and they won’t come down on you (hopefully) for saying it.

  65. Roscoe*

    I’ll be honest, most of this just sounds like a bad fit for Bob. I’m not even going to assume any social issues, he just seems like he is trying to be a friendly person in an enviornment where no one is friendly back. As a social person who has gotten stuck in these roles, it sucks. I know he is new, but really would it kill people to engage in some conversation here and there? It seems like when people are introverted in a very social environment, extroverted people are expected to make an effort to include them even when they make no effort back, but it seems this doesn’t work the same way. It honestly just seems like he is really craving some social interaction at a place he is spending 1/3 of his life. Now don’t get me wrong, some of this seems like he is reaching a bit too far, and I don’t want to say you shouldn’t be uncomfortable, but nothing you mentioned sounds like anything THAT out of the ordinary for workplace conversation.

    So again, maybe have a real conversation with him as Alison said, but also bring up that this office itself may not be the best fit since he doesn’t seem to like the isolation that many of you seem to crave.

      1. Roscoe*

        I’m not sure I get why its fanfic…

        I’ve been the outgoing person in an environment where everyone just sits at their desk and never really talks, and it sucks. All I’m saying is it may not be the best place for him.

        1. Rainy*

          All you’re saying is it may not be the best place for him and would it kill people to be forced into pointless and unwanted conversations that he consistently pushes into the personal and past the bounds of politeness.

          1. JKL*

            You seem to be interpreting Bob’s behavior as much more nefarious than it actually is. The guy just wants to make small talk with his co-workers and he’s being a little awkward about it. Describing that behavior as *forcing* people into unwanted conversations is a little unkind.

            1. Crivens!*

              He keeps following the OP to the train despite her cues that it’s unwelcome. I sympathize with him if he genuinely doesn’t understand that, but that is forcing her into unwanted conversation.

            2. Zennish*

              I don’t think anyone is saying it’s nefarious, just that Bob wanting to make small talk doesn’t somehow trump everyone else not wanting to make small talk. It’s perfectly reasonable to try and disengage from daily conversations that one finds awkward and uncomfortable.

            3. Sir Freelancelot*

              He is unkind following OP around to say the least. Bob is a bit more than a little awkward and frankly being kind to him doesn’t mean OP has to force herself to accept his company. You’re kind describing Bob as just “a little awkard”.

              1. Fiddlesticks*

                Generally speaking, people go to work to work. Not to have unwelcome, pointless, distracting personal interactions with coworkers who seem to have no sense of boundaries or social cues. But this is not an introvert/extrovert thing! Extroverts working in an introvert culture need to find a way to satisfy their social needs outside of work, and not at the expense of their coworkers peace of mind and productivity. And introverts working in an extrovert culture need to find a way to cope with a normal level of noise and chatter (earplugs and sound-canceling headphones are my best friends) without demanding that everyone observe a funeral-home level of quiet.

                Bob is not “just a little awkward”. He’s being rude and inconsiderate, whether he understands it or not, as as Alison said, the sooner he’s clued into how people are perceiving him the better it will be for both him and his coworkers.

            4. ket*

              I’ve had the person at work who has followed me to the bathroom to keep, well, arguing about his grade, actually — it’s not ‘just making small talk and being awkward’. Following people out to their tram etc is beyond small talk.

              1. Ellen N.*

                I based my view on the details the original poster shared (people don’t say good morning, don’t share details of their life outside of work, don’t welcome people to join their conversations, etc.).

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  But she didn’t say people don’t share their lives outside of work and don’t welcome people joining their social conversations. You added that on your own! Elsewhere in the comments, she clarifies that it’s a perfectly warm office.

                2. OP*

                  When I said it’s normal for people not to say good morning, I really meant no one would be offended or feel stilted if someone failed to say it, and we’re generally quieter in the morning. It’s true that it’s not typical for anyone to ask each person individually what they did the night before and what they have to work on today. I did not say we don’t share details about our lives or welcome others to social conversations.

        2. Snark*

          Exactly. You’re completely ignoring most of what the OP posted and selectively replying in a way that’s largely about you and your personal experiences, not about the actual letter at hand. Advice column fanfic. And, like, it sucks that your coworkers were cold and rude, but this isn’t about you.

          People who are extroverted but have typical social skills recognize cues and don’t stand silently and staring at conversations, don’t attempt to engage people who are wearing headphones and walking away from him, and understand the basic impropriety of persistently asking detailed questions about irrelevant topics. They recognize when people are busy and don’t want to talk. So whatever your personal experiences were and are, OP and her coworker are clearly in a different situation, one where he very obviously doesn’t really get social cues and the finer rules of social interactions.

          1. Mazzy*

            This is a very cold critique of the above comment. There is nothing wrong with Roscoes comment and they can write about their own experience if there is a connection. I’m not sure why their comment is being dissected

            1. WakeUp!*

              Okay, let’s try “harsh” or “hostile.” It’s dismaying that such a frequent commenter feels it’s ok to ignore the “be kind” commenting rule.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I have removed a bunch of sniping from this thread. Please stick to the topic of the letter and stop the interpersonal sniping with other commenters, y’all.

          2. AMT*

            Yeah, I trust the LW’s assessment of the situation. I don’t think she’d be writing in if his behavior fell within general social norms. What’s more likely, that the LW and everyone else in her office is unusually cold and unfriendly, or that this guy has a skewed idea of how to behave at work?

            1. Ellen N.*

              From the original poster’s description of the company culture, it is an unusually unfriendly office.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                She said this in a comment: “It’s very normal for people to join/chime in on common social conversations and despite how I may have portrayed my team, we do often engage in group discussions about TV shows, our personal lives, etc. “

          3. JamieS*

            OP is posting within the context of someone who works in a very unsocial workplace who considers basic small chat to be an “issue” and who has jumped to the conclusion of someone being on the spectrum because they’re not as unsocial as the rest. With that in mind maybe we should consider the possibility that OP’s perspective isn’t 100% accurate.

            1. Ellen N.*

              I completely agree with you.

              On a side note, Alison have you considered adding thumbs up buttons so that we could like comments without adding a comment?

        3. Decima Dewey*

          It can be tough to be the outlier in a work environment. And perhaps this workplace isn’t the best place for Bob.

          This does not mean that the rest of the office, who are comfortable with the office culture as it is, have to change so that Bob can be happy. We all modify our behavior and our personalities at work. Introverts who work with extroverted managers learn to approach the manager at the beginning of the workday and greet them, to make the relationship with the manager go more smoothly. Atheist coworkers learn not to say or do certain things around religious colleagues (such as taking the name of the Lord in vain, or whistling “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

          “Humoring Bob” isn’t working and as others have noted, isn’t kind to Bob. The norms of the office have to be communicated to Bob, particularly when he’s unwittingly annoying coworkers.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Uncalled for.
        I know you have a snarky sense of humor, but that didn’t even seem like you were trying to be funny.

        1. Observer*

          I don’t think this was meant to be funny. It’s a good comment on the fact that this comment creates a narrative that has nothing in common with the facts that the OP presents.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’ve been the social/friendly person in an introverted/quiet office, but I still wouldn’t behave the way Bob is behaving.

      Aside from his morning questions, his behavior doesn’t read “friendly” to me. Getting up to stand by people who are having a one-on-one conversation? Trying to walk with someone who wants to walk alone and decompress? Asking detailed questions when someone’s trying to blow you off? After 4 months, it doesn’t make sense to keep doing these things.

      That said, I agree with Alison that OP and others need to be kind but direct about what they need from Bob. It isn’t ok to “humor someone” because of their “unique social skills” but secretly be seething inside hoping he gets the hint. He’s not getting the hint.

      It’s incredibly unkind not to let him know that his behavior is alienating/irritating others (OP doesn’t have to tell him he’s irritating, but they do have to be direct in refocusing him and articulating their preferences/needs). I hope OP can convince Bob’s manager that their current approach is hurting Bob and everyone else.

      1. Artemesia*

        The script sounds like something he has been taught and is rigidly doing because he is the sort of person who needs to be taught about small talk. Trying to modify that a bit but also doing a bit of small talk with him is kind.

        The standing over a manager while they speak to another employee should have been nipped the first time it happened and should be clearly enforced. Lots of snoopy people do this sort of thing as well as socially disabled people — he needs to be told not to do that directly.

        Same with the walking to the station. ‘This is me time and exercise time for me; I don’t want company so please excuse me and let me do this alone.’ puts on ear phones.

      2. AKchic*

        All of this. And I’m glad that LW specified that Bob does this to everyone regardless of gender, because I am sure that would have been the first thing asked.
        I see this kind of behavior a lot with socially awkward ren fair types (both actors and patrons). Unless they have a role to play, they feel very lost and unsure of how to act. They seek out others to teach them how to act and interact. They want friends, companionship, and social bonding. Unfortunately, most of them just don’t know how to go about getting that because they are so far removed from social norms; whether it was during their formative years and didn’t learn in their youth and now they are awkward, or they have social anxiety, or they are neurodivergent, or they were bullied for being “different”, or most commonly – a combination of those things.
        I’m not saying LW has to be Bob’s teacher. I’m not saying that the coworkers have to be Bob’s teacher. I am, however, agreeing with Alison that the current method of being kind is not kind at all. Being straightforward in a tactful, polite way is much more kind. It also has the added bonus of teaching Bob.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          After they’ve done that, maybe they can steer Bob towards an after-work activity that will help with his need for social. Ideally one that will also help him learn social skills, though I don’t know of any specific ones.
          This worked for me when I was in a bad job – I had activities 2-3 times a week that cheered me up and helped me connect with people outside of work, and that kept me going.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I didn’t mean to imply Bob’s job is bad – just that since he’s social and his office isn’t, he needs to fill that need outside of work.

          2. AKchic*

            But it’s not up to the coworkers (or LW in particular) to parent / coach Bob towards appropriate socialization opportunities outside of the office. He is an adult. He presumably has ways of looking up group activities, or going to public events.

    2. GRA*

      Nothing more to add, except that I agree with this comment. I’m not on the spectrum, but I would probably annoy everyone in this office, too, with my “good mornings” and social interactions throughout the day.

      1. Alina*

        I think I would too. I definitely don’t want to be best friends with coworkers but would appreciate some casual conversation.

      2. Batgirl*

        But would you ask the same four question in the exact same order? And expect people to come up with something ‘interesting’ to tell you about their evening when you’ve had dozens of ‘no, nothing interesting about my evenings’ responses?
        The poor guy is just reciting a (very unwavering and non contextual) catechism.

    3. Crivens!*

      Whether he means it or not, he’s violating people’s boundaries here, especially the bit about following OP on her walk to the train station. As Alison says, it would be a kindness to tell him outright what the boundaries here are so he can respect them going forward.

      1. Roscoe*

        I get that, totally. But OP and no one else has just stated that “I like to walk to the train alone”. My last office, people left and walked to the train in groups all the time. I just think people should use their words instead of getting mad that someone isn’t picking up on hints. This to me is good to do in MANY situations.

        1. Crivens!*

          Of course! As I said elsewhere in the thread, it’s important to remember that women especially are trained not to make waves. We’re taught that stating our needs bluntly is rude. I agree completely that in this situation the only solution is for OP to do so, but I don’t think we can act shocked and appalled at the fact that she may not have been comfortable doing it before: the socialization to be “polite” and never state your own needs is strong.

          1. RUKiddingMe*


            Also, the work day is over, they are not friends, there is no reason for him to assume she wants to spend more time with him or any of her coworkers.

            When someone days “sorry I’m in a rush,” most people clue in that their presense/company is not wrlcome/wanted.

          2. Sloan Kittering*

            Also it often legit doesn’t work very well for women. I have tried to bluntly state that I don’t like to pick up everybody’s else’s lunch orders when I leave to go eat, but they definitely press me and I know it’s because they think they can overcome a young woman’s resistance pretty easily and then get what they want. Let’s not pretend it’s always just that women are too shy to speak up.

            1. Asenath*

              The trick is not to say you don’t like to pick up lunch orders, but that you won’t/can’t pick up the lunch orders. Otherwise, they’ll think you’re just being extra nice when you pick them up anyway, not that you really dislike doing so. I’ve gotten more and more fond of responding briefly and clearly to requests I really don’t want to do as I’ve gotten older and more experienced. Of course, some people undoubtedly think my manner is too brusque or unfriendly, but you can’t have everything!

              1. Sloan Kittering*

                I have said, “I don’t like to be in charge of lunch orders, I don’t like dealing with money and complicated orders, I just want to enjoy my lunch without worrying about it. Sorry.” The response varies from, “Pleeeeeeease?” to “what a b*tch.”

                1. Environmental Compliance*

                  My usual response to a request of that nature is “no thanks!” said very cheerfully and then removing myself from the conversation. It confuses just enough between the thanks and the cheerfullness that the question stops, but also is unerringly polite that really they can’t bitch that much about it.

                2. Just Lil' Ol' Me*

                  I hate it when people try to make someone else responsible for their lunch! “Are you going to run out to get anything for lunch today? I’m stuck in a meeting.” “No, I brought mine.” “Oh, well, I guess I won’t get any lunch then.” Me (inside my head): “Starve, bitch. I’m in the same meeting — I planned ahead.”

                3. Asenath*

                  For the first, you just repeat “no”, and for the second – well, I don’t worry much anymore if someone thinks I’m a b*tch, well, I do try to ensure that I don’t think I’m acting like a b*tch since I’m not perfect! But generally, if someone calls me that because I don’t do a favour for them, I don’t worry about it, not any more. One of my earlier steps in learning this reponse happened years ago when I moved into a lovely new apartment. The landlady lived upstairs, and informed me that the person living in the apartment always collected money door-to-door for X charity. Now, I had no particular objection to the charity in question, although it wasn’t one of favourites, but I had every objection in the world to collecting money door-to-door. I blurted out that I couldn’t do it, and didn’t back down or make excuses. And then I suddenly realized that I could refuse to do things I didn’t want to do, and the trick is to do so clearly, briefly, without softening language (like “don’t like”), and move on right away.

                4. Sloan Kittering*

                  Yeah but the issue is, they never ask men, and if they did ask and a man said “nope,” they would respect that. They don’t respect my no. So then I have to rise to the level of making it actively uncomfortable for everyone (which I’m willing to do, don’t get me wrong) and meanwhile people are like, why don’t women just speak up.

                5. LilySparrow*

                  Well, there’s your problem. If your goal is to never have anyone think or say you’re a bitch, then you will always be at the mercy of manipulative people.

                  Manipulative people will say or do whatever pushes your buttons to make you do what they want. They don’t listen to what you say, because they don’t care what you think or what you want.

                  They will stop pressing when it stops working. The more you talk about your wants and your feelings, the more they suspect they are close to winning. Stop trying to make them be happy about your no. Just give it and keep moving.

            2. McWhadden*

              Yes, “no” from a woman is the start of a negotiation for many (and not just, or even primarily, in sexual circumstances.)
              Heck, as a woman, I’ve even been subconsciously guilty of that.

          3. Batgirl*

            I once ran into a colleague in a bar, chatted to him for two mins and when I said ‘I’ve got to get back to my friends now’ I got a highly offended lecture on how I was being unsociable. Imagine if I’d cut straight to ‘I havent got any time to chat; I’ve got out of town friends who are about to catch their train home’ (which was what I wanted to say). So women aren’t paranoid about this stuff. When we try it, it doesn’t always go the way reasonable people expect it to.

            1. Asenath*

              I don’t know if it’s only females, but, sure, some people are going to try to criticize you or lecture you if you do things they don’t like. You don’t have to take them seriously. You don’t even have to listen to them if you’ve already said you need to leave now. Just walk away.

              I swear my manners have gotten worse as I’ve gotten older – but I do like not having to tolerate fools as gladly as I once might have.

              1. Batgirl*

                Oh mine too. I knew he was a fool when I made the ‘two mins appeasement better than being cornered for ten’ calculation. I don’t play sad maths anymore. I just do what I want and accept the bitch label. It’s only jerks.

                1. AMT*

                  I’m dying at “sad maths.” You’re right: sadders gonna sad, but it’s better to let them be sad instead of twisting ourselves into pretzels trying to keep them happy.

              2. Tisiphone*

                Me too. I was taught to use the most ineffective ways to get a no to stick. I was rude if I didn’t follow the two steps below to get out of doing something.

                1. Refuse with a soft no giving reasons why I couldn’t (as opposed to not wanting to) do the thing I didn’t want to do.

                2. The asker would accept the no and tell me that it was OK for me not to do the thing.

                If the second step didn’t happen, I was still responsible for doing the thing. People don’t like hearing no out of the mouth of teenage girls.

                I’ve traveled around the sun enough times that I’ve run out of words beginning with the letter F. The default answer is no, and if you don’t get a yes, you’d better have a backup plan.

              3. RUKiddingMe*

                No it’s not only women. On occasion, rare occasion this crap happens to males too. However it is overwhelmingly directed at women.

        2. Totally Minnie*

          And that’s why Alison advises the OP to do just that. Can we not judge the OP for not having implemented the advice before she received it? People aren’t perfect, and sometimes the things that seem completely logical to one person just don’t occur to someone else unless they’re explicitly pointed out.

          1. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

            You put my issue with this whole thread into words. People are scolding the OP for not having implemented the advice before she received it. Thank you!

        3. ello mate*

          Yeah exactly, I once ended up on the same bus as a co-worker and she just casually said “I’m used to being alone on here so I’m going to listen to music and zone out.”. it was polite and also what I wanted to do.

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        I can see it as someone has told him “it is friendly to walk with people going your way” and OP hasn’t contradicted this – I think there is a very good chance if OP says “Please don’t come with me – I prefer to walk alone to the station. Have a nice night!” then that will be the end of that.

        1. Batgirl*

          Yeah, if he feels he has to rush just because she’s rushing that’s not someone simply opting into a social after work stroll.

    4. Sloan Kittering*

      It’s true, the office currently may be on the far end of the introversion scale, if there’s no good mornings at all and it’s really frowned on to try and join other conversations. Sometimes office cultures do have to be flexible as new people join the team with different styles. And t here are offices where walking to the train with your coworkers would be totally acceptable – I find it really ranges. Of course, it doesn’t really change the advice given here, just the framework OP might be using.

    5. Rainy*

      When you reach the point that you are standing over people engaged in a work discussion, just breathing at them as they attempt to have a conversation that doesn’t involve you, the people engaged in the work discussion are not the problem here.

      I absolutely agree that people need to have the conversation and set explicit boundaries with Bob instead of just madly social-cuing at someone who’s already proved that they either don’t understand or refuse to heed social cues, but I really don’t have to go out of my way to have an uncomfortable and pointless conversation with someone just because they’re lonely.

      Of course, I’m a woman, and in my 40-odd years on this planet I’ve been given that exact instruction approximately 87 million times already, often about people who do end up being a problem or a threat to me, so you should excuse my irritation on this topic.

      1. Crivens!*

        Right? Sorry you’re lonely, genuinely, but it is not my job to fix that if it makes me uncomfortable. Or at all.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Except if you are a woman and the other person is a male. In that case it’s absolutely your obligation* to do so…regardless of relationship or level of familiarity. /s

          *Honestly I’m sutprised someone (incels?) hasn’t tried to make it a legal mandate.

      2. AMT*

        Aaaaaaargh yes yes yes. Directness is good and empathy is good and all that, but let’s not pretend that the LW and Friendly Guy are on equal footing in terms of the reasonableness of what they’re expecting of other people. I know we have plenty of debates in the comments about the fine points of what is and is not normal office behavior (the headphone arguments alone could fill a book), but I can’t see how it’s possible to read the letter and the LW’s comments and not realize that Friendly Guy’s behavior is a problem. Let’s not gaslight her into believing that her need for space isn’t important.

    6. madge*

      “but nothing you mentioned sounds like anything THAT out of the ordinary for workplace conversation.”

      There is nothing normal about verbally assaulting colleagues with questions the second they walk in the door every single day. I’ve had to tell a colleague, “I spend my first few minutes of the day in my head, sorry!” as code for, “For the love of kittens, we do not need to have a full-on conversation when I’m trying to mentally review my day”. “Good Morning” is fine; a barrage of comments is not.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, this part is not typical and I suspect is a major part of why the OP suspects he’s not neurotypical:

        every morning, he will ask each person as they come in how they are, what interesting thing they did the night before, what their plans for tonight are, and what they’re working on today. It’s basically a script.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          As someone on the spectrum myself: agreed.

          This isn’t “socially extraverted vs. socially introverted.” This is a Bob trying to use IQ to do an EQ thing and not succeeding. Just let him know, kindly, that you (and/or most of the office) prefers a simple “hello” and aren’t up to a conversation first thing in the morning, and he’ll factor that into his behavior.

          1. Quickbeam*

            I’m married for 32 years to someone on the spectrum. That doesn’t make me an expert but I do read “on the spectrum” all over OP’s letter. The average neurotypical thinks they are sending out obvious messages and really don’t get why the behavior is not changing. The messages are not received. Clear straightforward, calm instructions are a game changer.

            1. Mimi Me*

              Yes. I once worked with a woman (“Jane”) who was on the spectrum. She had this habit of stepping in too close to talk. I would take a step back, she’d take a step forward. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings so I just tamped down my frustration. One day we hired a new employee (“Katie”). Jane stepped in close to talk and Katie put up her hand and said “Whoa, Jane, you’re too close to me and it bothers me.” Katie then put her hands up in front of her (arms fully extended, but finger touching- like a ballet pose) “This is my personal bubble. Please don’t invade it, okay?” Jane just nodded and said that she appreciated the heads up. I learned the lesson that setting boundaries doesn’t have to be complicated or cruel, just kind and matter of fact.

      2. JKL*

        Removed. Do not nitpick wording here.

        Also removed a bunch of replies doing the same.

        – Alison

        commenting rules

        1. I Need Coffee*

          No. Not dramatic at all. “Hello, how are you?” is one thing. A litany of questions before she even has a chance to take off her coat and put her things down is maddening.

          1. a1*

            Litany of questions? It’s 4 questions. And they don’t take long to answer. “Fine, thanks. Nothing really. Just going home again tonight. Still working on TPS reports” Takes 30 seconds tops, especially if you know the questions are coming. Or even a “Same old, same old. Nothing really changes, you know” with a smile.

            That said, I do agree with being direct about what you want/expect. That is always the answer, imo. I was reading the whole letter waiting to get to the point where they stopped with the hints, but that hasn’t happened yet. So, per usual, just follow Alison’s advice.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              And what about the people who don’t want to be chatted at all the time? Their comfort doesn’t matter?

              1. JKL*

                This isn’t an all or nothing situation; there’s a middle ground here. OP can chat with him for 90 seconds and then say, “ok, gotta get to work.”

              2. a1*

                If you read my whole comment you will see I actually agreed with Alison. I didn’t spell it out other than saying I agree with that advice, but since that advice included setting boundaries I thought that was obvious to not want to chat. I was just objecting to calling it a “litany”. Four is hardly a litany. But to answer you question – just say “Hey, I don’t like to talk in the morning. Thanks” and sit down.

                (I was also objecting to the thought it would take a long time to answer, if one was so inclined. Or that there was pressure to come up with something interesting. You can answer, be friendly. not divulge anything personal, and be quick and get back to work. Again, if one is so inclined.)

              3. ello mate*

                If your co worker saying hi and asking you what you’re working on pushes you that far over the edge maybe don’t leave your house then? Man, this blog makes me question if anyone has ever had to make 1 tiny compromise for anything ever! No I don’t want to say hello to the homeless man outside starbucks every day but he says hello so i say it back! its not some major offense its just existing in a society.

            2. Rainy*

              If I wanted to have a scripted encounter every morning I’d play a level of some cutscene heavy video game on my way to work.

              1. JKL*

                Or you can go off script and ask him a few questions. I don’t understand what’s so difficult about engaging in conversation with a co-worker for a minute or two.

                1. Observer*

                  That doesn’t mean that anyone has any obligation to do so. YOU like to have conversations with people about what you did yesterday and are planning to do tonight every single day, and you even enjoy it first thing when you walk in the door to the office. Fine. That does net mean that others like that, and they don’t have the least bit of obligation to engage in those conversations. Given that the script being described goes well beyond the typical social chit chat that people can be reasonably expected to engage in, both in scope and timing, it’s perfectly legitimate for people expect Bob to be the one to cut back. If they were refusing to say “good morning”, I’d be squarely on the side of “you need to treat people like humans not robots. Say good morning!” But this is not that, by any stretch.

                  Also, you are ignoring the larger context. It’s not just the morning questions. It’s fact that he regularly goes way off topic and asks people intrusive questions. And his behavior around work conversations is just off the wall.

            3. Batgirl*

              You would do this to someone who you knew was uncomfortable just because you’re ok with it? Im guessing that Bob will not, once he gets clearer cues.

        2. AKchic*

          I would like to hand you my kids who all need things the very second I get home from work, who all conveniently did not call me when they arrived home from school to get their chore assignments, did not put their permission slips in the “Mom File” for the last week, did not assist me in updating the family calendar for the last month, or do their laundry at all and all have field trips, snacks, special costume requirements, projects due, need money, oh, and what’s for dinner we’re STARVING RIGHT NOW (two of them are teenagers) and can so-and-so come over to eat with us, by the way we’re out of cat litter because the neighbor needed some and M got stuck down the street and we didn’t call you to see where the emergency sand in the garage was so we used the brand new 35lb bucket of cat litter instead that you bought 3 days ago and why haven’t you started dinner yet, and there’s a new video game out, and are you even going to take your coat off and wow the dog is really loud why don’t you pet her, we should get her some new dog treats, mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom

          Yeah… it’s an assault. A barrage. If I had a guy asking me the same questions about my boring home life every morning, and before my caffeine had a chance to kick in, before I had a chance to take my traveling gear off, or set my stuff down and collect my thoughts, or while I was still in mid-thought about what I needed to do for the day… yeah. Add in the other behaviors and I’d be BEC about all of it.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Thank you! I dont care that it’s “only” a few questions. It’s not necessary to ask them, or at all really, and furthermore some people don’t want to be “chatty” first thing in the morning.

          2. Roscoe*

            But all this kind of sounds like a YOU problem, not a him problem.

            If you are stressed out at home and take it out on someone for saying good morning, that seems a bit much. Its not an assault because your kids are exhausting

            1. AKchic*

              So you do agree that *people* can be exhausting? And that first thing in the morning, when people are coming in to the office, Bob himself can be exhausting to deal with, and nobody wants to answer his Questions Four as they pass the threshold of their workspace in order to be allowed to take off their coats, set down their bag(s) log in to their computer, put away their lunch/snacks, get their coffee and start the day?

              1. Roscoe*

                Sure, but because someone outside of the office was annoying, that doesn’t mean you should take it out on the people in your office. Whether those people are your kids, or people on the subway, or people in traffic

        3. Pomona Sprout*

          Yes, “verbally assaulted” is dramatic, but so what? It is a very accurate way of describing how a lot of us would feel about being pelted with a barrage of pointless questions immediately up arriving at work. Every. Damned. Day.

          Admonishing people about the words they use to describe how they feel about something is dangerously close to telling them how they are allowed to feel. I am NOT saying that was intentional on your part; I’m saying that’s how it FEELS to a lot of people when you do it. It’s called tone policing, and it’s not cool, dude.

          1. Roscoe*

            Totally agree here. If verbally assault now means being friendly in the morning before someone has had their cup of coffee, then we probably have expanded the term WAY too much. I get not wanting to talk to someone, but, as been said on here many times “words have meaning”. You can’t just change the definition of words to suit how you feel that day

          2. I Need Coffee*

            You must be new here. Commenting rules specifically call out not nitpicking word choices.

    7. Lance*

      I’d agree on the ‘highly friendly person in a less social office’… up to the point of him continuing to quietly stand there as people are having conversations. I get it, he may want to be included or something of that sort, but that’s still atypical social behavior that, I would say, makes it pretty clear that OP and coworkers will have to be direct about what’s bothering them. Not to a point of saying he can’t socialize, of course — and of course, if there is socializing going on in general, it would be good to at least include him or let him step in sometimes, if it’s relevant/of interest and he actually has something to say — but putting a stop to some of this behavior, particularly standing by while people are talking (in lieu of doing his own work, no less) would be a kindness to everyone in that office.

    8. Envy Adams*

      I came here to say exactly this! I completely agree his behaviour is unacceptable (especially for this particular office it seems), but as a fellow very chatty person in a quiet office I have a lot of sympathy for Bob.

        1. Roscoe*

          I’m talking about the comments directed at me by you and others. You keep responding to me, so you are making it about me. Since when are people not allowed in this thread to include their experiences when giving letter writers advice? People do that all the time. Hell, in this thread you seem to be targeting ME even though plenty of others are mentioning their experiences as well

          1. Snark*

            I am allowed to disagree with you, and that does not mean you are being persecuted or ill-treated. Like I said, you are ignoring and negating what we know from OP to rehash your own experience, not using your own experiences to add to OP’s understanding of the situation. If you can’t see the difference, that’s the problem.

        2. Ellen N.*

          Roscoe isn’t making it about him. He’s representing people who enjoy/are comfortable with social interaction.

        1. Snark*

          Sorry – hadn’t refreshed the page before I replied above. That said, it’s really not personal, it just feels like this whole thread is heading off topic.

          1. Ellen N.*

            I don’t agree. The topic is Bob and social interaction. It’s a different view, but not off topic to point out that to some people Bob’s social skills are normal.

      1. DCompliance*

        I have worked with chatty people before, but even they pick up on that first thing in the morning is not the best time.

      2. overeducated*

        Agreed, both can be true. I’m in a somewhat chatty office right now and we had a Bob, who was really not happy here after his boss first moved his desk and then said he needed to stop distracting everyone and do his work more – there’s a difference between extroversion and not being able to read cues. But I have also struggled in less social office environments, even though I wouldn’t even consider myself an extrovert at all. It sounds like maybe a quiet office culture AND a person with social interaction challenges are both going on here and that may just make his behavior come off even worse, so it may be a poor fit in the long run for him.

        1. Crivens!*

          They’re a group of incorrect things that tend to be beliefs held by groups of geeky folks, though in my mind they apply to everyone and should be overcome by society at large, not just us nerds. Here are the ones from (IIRC) the first article that inspired discussion on it:

          1. Ostracizers are evil
          2. Friends accept me as I am
          3. Friendship before all
          4. Friendship is transitive
          5. Friends to everything together

          Captain Awkward in particular has a lot of great editions to it, including ones that apply to sexism and gendered ideas of how we should socialize.

            1. OlympiasEpiriot*

              But, take a look at the blog post or Captain Awkward’s piece that turn up in the search I posted. These are more than just the titles. In moderation, these are all actively good things. It is the way that they get taken to immoderation that is the problem.

      1. AKchic*

        I thought about this too. It’s always possible. However, until you start spelling out what actions you want to see and then see whether or not Bob will comply, you can’t necessarily assume the SGF.

    9. Jennifer*

      I agree. I think the coworkers could meet him halfway. Extroverts are expected to change their behavior for introverts but sometimes we are not as accommodating when expected to do the same. Ask him to change the behaviors that are especially annoying, like the walk to the tram, but a few minutes of small talk isn’t that big of a deal.

      1. Kitty*

        Oh, I don’t know if that works in reverse – being forced to make small talk as an introvert is exhausting, being forced to limit chatter as an extrovert surely isn’t as draining?

        1. Le Sigh*

          I dunno, the feeling I get from the extroverts is that they need the interaction as much as we don’t. So we get tired from people and need to recharge; they can feel anxious if they don’t have that same interaction, and need that recharge, almost like if you’re someone who thrives on physical activity but can’t get it. If Bob is just lonely, that can be acutely painful.

          Which is not to make it his coworkers responsibility, I just think it’s worth acknowledging all of these things are real for people.

          1. Jennifer*

            Yes, exactly. Being ignored all day can be as difficult as having people pestering you all day if you’re an introvert.

            1. Elspeth*

              He’s not ignored all day though? OP says that he joins in with social conversations in the office and no one has a problem with that.

        2. a1*

          Being forced to be isolated *IS* draining to an extrovert, both physically and mentally. It really is bad.

          As a side note, I do wish people would stop conflating being social and chatty vs not chatty or social with introversion/extroversion. It really is about where you get your energy. There are a lot of shy extroverts and a lot of social introverts. Social introverts can go to a party and chat and interact with several people, and enjoy it, but they will likely leave earlier (or arrive later) since they will then be drained and need to recharge by themselves. A shy extrovert can go to the same party, hardly talk to anyone, stay all night and hardly be able to sleep when they get home since they will have been energized.

          1. Le Sigh*

            +1 social introvert reporting for duty.

            but also agree with the comments below that this is less about intro/extro, more about social behavior.

        3. Jennifer*

          I’m an introvert and a few minutes of small talk about a subject that interests me, like a tv show I love, wouldn’t be a big deal. Of course, everyone is different. The OP below stated they have conversations like that in the office and that Bob joins in. He just needs to understand which behaviors are welcome and which aren’t.

        4. McWhadden*

          I’m an introvert but it is absolutely as difficult and draining for extroverts to not have people to chat and socialize with. I’d think it is likely much more so. Extroverts thrive on social communication it’s what pumps them up. Whereas we introverts tend to like communication but need some down-time and have it not be that all day.

      2. Le Sigh*

        I suspect the introverts might be more inclined to meet him halfway if he backs off–which, they need to address pronto and be direct, so that Bob knows. So that ball is in their court, at least for that.

        Sometimes my more extroverted colleagues are a bit much for me, but I adjust. I like them. But if they turned it up to what Bob is doing, I’d probably find myself wanting to retreat on instinct. It’s one thing to make small talk, but the OP has tried to give clear info that she wants to walk alone, and he follows her and pesters her, even with her headphones in. I don’t want to be hounded into friendliness — it just makes me feel defensive.

        1. Rainy*

          I am an extrovert, and I’ve run into the Bobs of the world and they are not my people. I don’t think this is an extrovert/introvert issue, I think it’s a behavior and approach issue.

      3. Environmental Compliance*

        I don’t think anyone’s saying that he’s not allowed to be social, it’s that the ability to get to their desk, get a coffee or whatnot, and *then* do social talk, or at least not be bombarded with questions constantly, would be appreciated… in, at least let me take off my coat and set down my purse and then I’m ready to talk. Time and a place for everything.

      4. RUKiddingMe*

        I’m sorry but what? If anything introverts are expected to act extroverted and put up with the constant social crap from extroverts all the time lest we’re told we have a “problem.”

        1. Jennifer*

          I think the tide has shifted a bit since the introvert revolution or whatever you want to call it, and more introverts expect to be accommodated but aren’t really accommodating to extroverts in return. Just my experience.

          1. Roscoe*

            I definitely have experienced this there has been this shift and I don’t think other other side as willing to meet halfway

            1. Jennifer*

              Yes, they are becoming every bit as annoying as the extroverts they claimed annoyed them so much. I say this as an introvert. I left an online group for introverts for that reason.

          2. Ellen N.*

            I agree with you. Particularly on Ask A Manager, I see extroverts being viewed at best as bulls in china shops and at worst as having a personality disorder.

            1. Polymer Phil*

              It does seem like an awful lot of people on here are averse to socializing with coworkers to the point that an office happy hour or company Christmas party causes major anxiety.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                It really depends on the morale in the office, I think. If it’s a dog eat dog environment where everyone is out to stab everyone else in the back, or if there are known predators in the office and the management and the HR do nothing about it, then I can see how a happy hour or a holiday party can indeed become a source of anxiety. I once almost turned my car around on my way to a happy hour, after a message from a coworker came through saying that (known missing stair) was there. (Then I went anyway and stayed far away from him until he left.) If everyone has a good working relationship with each other, then not only will most of the people enjoy *occasionally* spending time together, they will also be understanding of the few legit introverts/people with social anxiety/people whose system gets easily overloaded in noisy and crowded social situations, etc, that would not be able to make it to the social event.

                My other issue with the work events is that there’s only 24 hours in the day, and most of us may have other things planned in our free time, that we may prefer to hanging with the group of people that we happen to work in the same building with. Personally, my workplace only does something social a few times a year, and I then go out and enjoy myself immensely. If it was a weekly thing like some workplaces have, I would probably be missing most of the gatherings.

          3. RUKiddingMe*

            Might be thst introverts have been accommodating extroverts since forever and now are more or less demanding (for lack of a better word) that their needs be addressed as well without always needing to worry if a given extrovert got her needs met too?

            1. Jennifer*

              Which is wrong. This is what I’m talking about. If you want people to accommodate your needs you should meet them halfway.

    10. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Since I seem unable to control the sniping in this comment thread, I’m moving it to the bottom of the page so it’s at least not the first thing people will encounter when reading the comments.

      1. London Engineer*

        I know that it must be exhausting sometimes but this kind of moderation is something I really appreciate about this comment section

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Seems like a solution in search of a problem! You can’t have a comment section this large without rough spots, but they’re more or less fine.

      2. V*

        Kind of interesting on how extroverts and introverts seem to feel victimized by one another, and how that’s showing in how people are getting emotional on the thread. Maybe worth a whole other blog post?

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          IDK…I’ve always felt that if extroverts need that much “people time” they should just find other extroverts equally in need and leave the introverts to sitting alone on the patio typing on our phones…

    11. Kyrielle*

      I don’t think you need to bring up that it might not be the best fit. The straightforward feedback that the office usually goes X way and being asked to stop doing what he’s doing works beautifully regardless. Because if he is a strong extrovert and craves those interactions, after he gets clear responses and knows what the office expects / normally does, he’ll know that about the office culture. And he can choose whether he wants to tone it down as requested to fit in, or not tone it down and live with the reactions, and while doing one or the other, whether or not he wants to job-search for a job at a more chatty office.

      tl;dr – if the office not being chatty (and not wanting to become chatty) makes it a bad fit for him, he can assess that himself once he has a clearer view of that fact.

      1. Ellen N.*

        I think it would be helpful for the original poster to understand that her office culture is unusually interaction adverse. It is to a degree that I believe it would be wise to bring it up in job interviews.

        I would be unhappy in an office where people didn’t say good morning to those they passed and where people would be offended if I asked them about their life outside of work.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m going to ask you to please stop saying this. It’s not correct based on what she’s said, and the letter writer and I have both corrected you about your facts here (and others have as well).

  66. Argh!*

    My first thought was the spectrum. Some people just don’t pick up on social cues at all for some reason they can’t control. Hinting just doesn’t work.

    I don’t think I’d make assumptions about how others feel. I’d just talk about my personal needs. “My evening walk is my exercise for the day. You’re welcome to join me if you want to speed-walk and not talk.” (Would LW be okay with that?)

    Or… “Hey, Bob, I realize you can overhear everything, but we need to talk about this just the two of us, so I’ll touch base with you later. Bye!”

    It could be that Bob is just friendly, extroverted, and a bit nervous about a new situation. I am more extroverted than my coworkers and I probably drive them a bit crazy. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I mainly view them as cold and unfriendly. This the first place I’ve worked where it’s normal to pass people in the hall looking straight forward without acknowledging the other person at all. I feel like I’m in Zombie Stepford Village.

    1. old lady manager*

      I’m the same way. I was taught that it was rude to ignore other people when you enter a room unless they look busy, rude to not say Hi when you come in or bye when you leave. Along with other things that I was taught as having good manors and being friendly.

      I have worked in offices where no one socialized after hours or during meal breaks with each other. The only times people talked to each other that wasn’t work related was to bond over complaining about someone. Come in, ignore everyone, put on your earphones and get your work done.

      I have worked in places where people have no life away from work. They went to movies together, partied together, vacationed together. When someone quit, it was like a death in the family. They were totally wrapped up in each others lives.

      I was miserable in both places until I got clued into the social rules of each.
      OP, your rules believe or not, are somewhat unique to your location. Same with your “social cues”.
      If the guy does good work and is ok to work with except for this issue, just talk to him about it. I’m guessing that your other co-workers just don’t want to connect at all with him. Their politeness is the same type that lets a coworker walk around with toilet paper stuck to their shoe because they don’t want to embarrass him by letting him know its there.
      They don’t want to get involved.
      They don’t want to connect and they don’t want you to either.
      I bet you approached your coworkers to ask about him, not them approaching you to complain. That’s probably because you are the most social of the bunch.
      Once I realized that no one wanted to be work friends at the first job, I stopped trying to be friendly and kept to being southernly polite. I spent more effort developing my out of work friendships. I also started to run from work at the end of the day because I wanted to leave work and my coworkers at work.

      At the place where everyone was like family, it felt cult like and suffocating until I learned that I could still be friendly during work hours and guard my off time and private life without work repercussions.
      In both places, someone who had been there a while, gave me a clue of what the setup was.
      At the first place, I was told it was not rude to not greet people. Matter of fact, if they were deep in thought or problem solving, it could distract them and derail their train of thought.
      Once I was told that, I started watching for what was considered acceptable behavior for there.

      At the second place, I was warned that the place could suck up my life if I didn’t setup boundaries at the beginning. Also that the “one big happy family” had family drama and crazy uncle just like a real family.

      Good luck.

  67. nnn*

    I wonder what Bob would say if asked every day what his plans for the evening were, then asked the next morning what he did the night before.

    (This isn’t advice, I’m just trying to imagine how it would play out.)

Comments are closed.